The intriguing and uniquely Spanish term bodegón (bodegones in plural) literally means “tavern” or “bodega,” but since the 18th century, Spaniards have used it mainly to designate Spanish still-life paintings. In the 17th century, bodegón referred specifically to Spanish paintings representing figures with food and drink, a genre that was practiced especially during the first half of that century, and that is best known through the works of Diego Velázquez. In the English-speaking world, the word bodegón usually refers to this particular kind of painting, while in Spain it refers to both paintings depicting figures with food and drink and still life proper. For the sake of clarity, I only discuss bodegones with figures under the section on Velázquez. Spanish still lifes first developed at the turn of the century in Toledo, became popular at the Madrid court in the first half of the 17th century, and disseminated widely to other Spanish regions in the second half of the 17th century, becoming widespread in the 18th and early 19th centuries. This evolution also involved changes in composition and subject matter, and possibly function: Juan Sánchez Cotán’s hyper-realistic depictions of fruits, vegetables, and game gave way to Juan van der Hamen’s symmetrical arrangements of courtly objects, and, in the second half of the 17th century, to the more specialized vanitas and flower paintings of Antonio de Pereda and Juan de Arellano, among others. Both types of bodegones belong to an artistic tradition that originated more or less simultaneously in Spain and Spanish-ruled regions of Italy and the Netherlands in the 16th century, and that placed unprecedented value in the illusionistic depiction of lowly things and subjects. Although many scholars of the early 20th century associated Spanish bodegones with the presumably Spanish notions of humbleness, asceticism, and spirituality, it is now widely accepted that, as elsewhere in Europe, Spanish bodegones are the product of myriad artistic and socioeconomic contexts, including the advent of pictorial naturalism, the competition with antiquity, the period’s scientific interest in the natural world, and the increasing role of material possessions (including collections) as markers of social status, particularly in Spain’s courtly and imperial culture. Indeed, a unique feature of Spanish bodegones (especially still lifes) is their continued royal patronage, from the 16th-century cuartos de las frutas for Charles V’s rooms in the Alhambra to Luis Meléndez’s still lifes for Charles IV’s New Cabinet of Natural History in the 18th century. Incorporating archival research, technical examination, patronage studies, and notions of material culture, scholars since the 1980s have started to explore some of these ideas, although much remains to fully understand these works’ meanings and functions in the specificity of their Spanish context.
Exhibition catalogues have played the most significant role in advancing scholarship, and most included here still constitute essential research tools. In 1936, Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española at the Sociedad española de amigos del arte de Madrid inaugurated the field, and its accompanying catalogue (Cavestany 1935), which included important archival documents and artists’ biographies, set the parameters for later studies. Almost fifty years later, in 1983, Pintura española de bodegones y floreros de 1600 a Goya (Pérez Sánchez 1983) at the Prado updated Cavestany’s catalogue with new artists and attributions, and incorporated an extensive essay by Pérez Sánchez. The groundbreaking 1985 exhibition Spanish Still Life in the Golden Age, 1600–1650 at the Kimbell Art Museum in Dallas made it possible to examine major works for the first time in the United States. Its accompanying catalogue (Jordan 1985), the first study of Spanish still life in English, incorporated new archival research that challenged previous assumptions of humbleness and asceticism, placing Spanish still life in the context of the period’s nascent naturalism and the patronage of educated elites. The catalogue’s two influential essays by Jordan (Jordan 1985, cited under Overviews) and Schroth (Schroth 1985, cited under Patronage and Clientele), its detailed introductions to the featured artists, and the extensive and rigorous catalogue entries are still essential for anyone studying Spanish still life. Building upon and expanding the scope of Jordan 1985, Spanish Still Life from Velázquez to Goya (Jordan and Cherry 1995) at the National Gallery in London brought to light new works and renewed attention to issues such as taste and natural history in the excellent introductory essay (Jordan and Cherry 1995, cited under Overviews). The catalogue for Flores españolas del siglo de oro (Calvo Serraller 2002) at the Prado Museum is relevant for being the only study focused specifically on flower painting. Although not devoted entirely to still life, two more recent exhibitions are remarkable for placing Spanish still life in broader contexts: El Greco to Velázquez (Schroth and Baer 2008) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston situates Spanish still life within the reign of Philip III and practices of collecting and display within the aristocratic household, and In the Presence of Things (Carvalho Dias and Cherry 2010) at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon (curated by Peter Cherry) places Spanish still life within the broader European context, where it emerges as a major player. Pérez Sánchez 1983, Jordan 1985, Jordan and Cherry 1995, and Schroth and Baer 2008 also discuss bodegones with figures. Exhibitions on individual artists are discussed under other headings.
Calvo Serraller, Francisco. Flores españolas del siglo de oro. Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2002.
First exhibition dedicated to 17th-century Spanish flower painting. Incorporates substantial essay by Serraller and extensive catalogue entries by Peter Cherry on artists from Blas de Ledesma to Juan de Arellano. Bibliography and list of exhibitions are also included. Exhibition also traveled to the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. High-quality downloadable reproductions and entries for works included in this exhibition can be found on the Prado website.
Carvalho Dias, João, and Peter Cherry. In the Presence of Things: Four Centuries of European Still-Life Painting. Vol. 1, 17th-18th Centuries. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2010.
Gives unprecedented attention to Spanish still life within the broader European context. Includes two essays by Peter Cherry, with latest scholarship and most recent findings, making it the most up-to-date study. Well-documented and profusely color-illustrated catalogue entries by Cherry appear at the end of the catalogue. Includes extensive bibliography.
Cavestany, Julio, ed. Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española. Madrid: Sociedad española de amigos del arte de Madrid, 1935.
Foundational exhibition. Catalogue includes seminal introductory essay, artists’ biographies, transcriptions of important inventories, and brief but illuminating entries for 179 paintings (from Spanish private and public collections). Some of the attributions and interpretations have been challenged, but this volume remains indispensable as a historiographical and bibliographic document.
Jordan, William, ed. Spanish Still Life in the Golden Age, 1600–1650. Dallas: Kimbell Art Museum, 1985.
First substantial study published in English. Incorporates groundbreaking archival research in two introductory essays by Jordan (in Overviews) and Schroth (in Patronage and Clientele), respectively. Catalogue organized chronologically and by artist, each accompanied by rigorously documented introductions and extensive entries, most still of essential reference today. Includes exhaustive bibliography, and index.
Jordan, William, and Peter Cherry. Spanish Still Life from Velázquez to Goya. London: National Gallery, 1995.
Expands the breadth of Jordan 1985, constituting the most comprehensive study in English. Includes cogent essay by Jordan and Cherry (also cited in Overviews) followed by ten briefer sections arranged chronologically and by region/artist, with intersected catalogue entries and extensive bibliography. Excellent and accessible resource for students.
Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., ed. Pintura española de bodegones y floreros de 1600 a Goya. Madrid: Salas de Exposiciones, Palacio de Bibliotecas y Museos, 1983.
Updates and expands Cavestany 1935 with significant essay organized chronologically, introducing new issues such as patronage. Also advances new attributions, some of them still widely accepted. Catalogue entries with descriptions and bibliography appear at the end of each chapter. Also includes artists’ biographies and ample bibliography.
Schroth, Sarah, and Ronni Baer. El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2008.
Places still life within Philip III’s reign. Includes two brief but highly suggestive sections: a general introduction, and a reconstruction of the Duke of Lerma’s camarín, which elucidates issues of patronage and functions within the aristocratic household. Includes exhibition checklist instead of catalogue entries. A brief overview can be found on the Museum of Fine Arts website.
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