Artists have been interested in the depiction of objects since antiquity, but it was only in the late sixteenth century that still-life painting emerged as an independent category in Spain and other parts of Europe. In Spain the earliest documented practitioner is the Toledan artist, Blas de Prado (c. 1546–1600), who is said to have painted pictures of fruit, although none of his works have been identified. His follower, Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560–1627), developed a series of highly original still-life paintings, which consist of the naturalistic depiction of humble objects, carefully arranged in an illusionistically-painted window frame and illuminated against an impenetrably dark background. Such striking compositions not only established the prototype of Spanish still-life painting but are unique in the history of Western art.
While this unsigned still-life painting lacks the sophistication of Sánchez Cotán’s work, it essentially follows his approach in the acute observation of detail and the arrangement of foodstuffs placed against a dark background. A woven basket containing artichokes and three bundles of asparagus features in the centre of a dark brown table or a shelf. The perspectival representation of the basket is slightly unconvincing, as it seems to float on the surface on which it sits. In the foreground, on either side of the basket, are two blue and white bowls with bright yellow lemons. The bundle of asparagus that is placed obliquely before the basket and the three lemons lying between the bowls serve to soften the symmetry of the composition. The selection of objects is framed by two cherry branches suspended from above. A soft light from the left illuminates the cherries in the right-hand corner and the objects on the dark brown table surface, producing subtle shadows, but the light does not penetrate the space behind. As a result, the objects emerge with a powerful presence from the completely dark background, inviting viewers to appreciate their harmonious arrangement and take in their contrasting colours, shapes, and textures.
The painting has been attributed to Blas de Ledesma, an artist active in Granada between 1602 and 1614, where he might have personally known Sánchez Cotán, given that the latter moved there from Toledo in 1603. Little is known about Blas de Ledesma’s life and only a few signed works by him are known. The basket in the present painting bears some resemblance to Basket with Cherries and Flowers, signed ‘Blas de Ledesma’, in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (USA). The two bowls and the upended asparagus depicted in this picture also feature in other works attributed to Blas de Ledesma. Apart from his activities as an easel painter, he also appears to have worked in 1614 on a design for decorating the Alhambra Palace. Other artists influenced by Sánchez Cotán include Alejandro de Loarte (c. 1590–1626), Felipe Ramírez (active 1620s-30s), and Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664).
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Still Life with Asparagus, Artichokes, Lemons, and Cherries.
Attributed to Blas de Ledesma (active in Granada, 1590–1614).
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas.
80 x 99.1 cm.
Marks and Inscriptions
Bequeathed by the founders John and Joséphine Bowes, 1885.
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, B.M.69.
Enriqueta Harris, ‘Spanish Pictures from the Bowes Museum’, The Burlington Magazine, 95 (1953, no. 598): 22–25;
Martin Soria, ‘Notes on the Spanish Paintings in the Bowes Museum’, The Connoisseur, 148 (1961, no. 595): 30–37;
Eric Young, ‘Renaissance and Mannerism: Painting in Spain’, Apollo, 81 (1965) p. 211;
Eric Young, Catalogue of Spanish Paintings in the Bowes Museum, 2nd ed. (Middlesborough: The Bowes Museum, 1988), p. 87;
Mercedes Cerón, ‘Still Life with Asparagus, Lemons, and Cherries’, https://www.vads.ac.uk/digital/collection/NIRP/id/27333/rec/1 [accessed: 22.07.22].