Bernardo Strozzi

The Gardener

Artist
Bernardo Strozzi
( fr, 1581 - Venice, 1620 )

Details
Oil on canvas 125.5x151 cm

Provenance
Mantua, collection of Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (very probably the painting cited in Niccolò Cassana’s inventory of 1709); anonymous sale, Christie’s, London, 24 February 1984, lot 42 (as follower of Andrea Belvedere).

Exposition
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen Alte Pinakothek, 27 November 1984 – 22 February 1985; Berlin, Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 6 September – 27 October 1985; Jerusalem, The Israel Museum of Art, June 1994; Tokyo, Seiji Memorial Museum of Art, 28 April – 26 May 2001; Ravensburg, Schloss Achberg, 11 April – 12 October 2003; La Pittura Eloquente, Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo, 16 June – 16 July 2010, n.6.

Literature
L. Salerno, La natura morta italiana 1560-1805, Rome 1984, pp. 140-145, no. 35.8, illus. on cover; L. Salerno, Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, exh. cat., Munich 1984-1985, Florence 1984, pp. 79-82, no. 30, illus.; B. Suida Manning, “Bernardo Strozzi as Painter of Still Life”, Apollo, CXXI, 278, April 1985, pp. 248-252, fig. 6; F. Zeri, La Natura morta in Italia, Milan 1989, vol. I, pp. 119-121, no. 115, illus.; L. Salerno, New Studies on Italian Still Life Painting, Rome 1989, pp. 15, 18, n.10, illus.; Italian still life painting from The Silvano Lodi collection, exh. cat., Jerusalem 1994, p. 48; M. Eidelberg, E. W. Rowlands, “The dispersal of the last Duke of Mantua’s paintings”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6th series, CXXIII, May – June 1994, p. 260, illus. p. 258; L. Mortari, Bernardo Strozzi, Rome 1995, pp. 176, 233, no. 430, illus.; P. Mould, Sleepers: In search of lost Old Masters, London 1995, pp. 50-54, figs. 13-15; Italian still life painting from the Silvano Lodi collection, exh. cat., Tokyo 2001, p. 52, no. 15, illus.; S. Dathe, Natura morta italiana: Italienischen stilleben aus vier Jahrhunderten, Sammlung Silvano Lodi, exh. cat., Ravensburg 2003, pp. 22, 41; C. Manzitti, La Pittura Eloquente, exh. cat., Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo 2010, n.6, pp. 37 - 41, illus. p. 39; C. Manzitti, Bernardo Strozzi, Turin, Ed. Umberto Allemandi & C., 2012, tav. XIX, no. 390, pp. 244.

It is to Luigi Salerno (La Natura morta italiana 1560-1805, Rome 1984) that we owe an initial reconstruction of Bernardo Strozzi’s activity as painter of still lifes, executed independently rather than as accessories to historia subjects. When all is said and done, it would not have been hard to imagine this side of his art, given the excellent quality of passages describing various objects – vases of the most disparate shapes, flowers and fruit of every kind – inserted in numerous canvases (e.g., The Madonna of the Rosary with Saints Dominic and Charles Borromeo in the church of San Martino in Framura, near La Spezia; The Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist and The Cook in the Galleria di Palazzo Rosso, Genoa; the Allegory of Summer and Autumn in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; The Rape of Europa in the Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań).

Nonetheless, tradition always held up Strozzi as a great artist exclusively dedicated to figure painting. It must be said that the tempting notion of him as a still life painter had been aired for some time, albeit quietly and uncertainly; this was true whenever there emerged a canvas with flowers or fruit, defined by that unmistakable immediacy and richness of pigment, with the path of the brushstroke distinctly recognizable in the grooves left by the hairs of the brush – an absolutely typical and exclusive attribute of Strozzi.

The definitive confirmation of such a hypothesis came from this very canvas, which first reappeared – darkened by the patina of time – in an auction held at Christie’s in London (24 February 1984, lot 42), where it had a generic attribution to a follower of Andrea Belvedere. At that time only the still life passage was visible, the rest having been covered over by repainting; but a careful cleaning revealed the presence of the young woman on the right – a figure whose perfect adherence to Strozzi’s female figure types finally provided the long-awaited, irrefutable proof of the artist’s activity within the specific genre of still life.

Further confirmation came from the identification of the work with the canvas described as “a half-length figure and a vase of flowers, by the hand of the Prete Genovese” in an inventory of the collection of Duke Ferdinando Carlo Gonzaga of Mantua, drawn up in 1709 by the painter Nicolò Cassana – not to mention an illustrious provenance. In the light of these discoveries, it was time to reassess the statement made in 1900 by Cesare Augusto Levi regarding a document concerning still lifes by Strozzi that the artist intended to bequeath to his pupil Ermanno Stroiffi. In conclusion, we may add that some still lifes are among the paintings by Strozzi listed in a posthumous inventory of his household goods in 1644 (L. Moretti, “L’eredità del pittore: l’inventario dei quadri ‘al tempo della sua morte’”, in E. Gavazza, G. Nepi Sciré, G. Rotondi Terminiello, eds., Bernardo Strozzi. Genova 1581/82 – Venezia 1644, exh. cat., Genoa, Palazzo Ducale, 6 May – 6 August 1995, Milan 1995, pp. 376-378).

Within the substantial group of still life paintings now unanimously agreed to be part of Strozzi’s oeuvre, this is the work that most clearly displays the final stage of his maturity. Figurative elements are presented with Baroque emphasis and chromatic exuberance, and the studied effect of animated confusion is quite distinct from the composed quality – with arrangements along a single plane – of so many of his other paintings.

Camillo Manzitti