Sanchez Cotan, Juan (1560c.-1627) - 1600-03 Still Life with Game Fowl (Art Institutue of Chicago, USA)
Oil on canvas; 68 x 89 cm.
Juan Sánchez Cotán (June 25, 1560 – September 8, 1627) was a Spanish Baroque painter, a pioneer of realism in Spain. His still life—also called bodegones)—were painted in an austere style, especially when compared to similar works in Netherlands and Italy.
Sánchez Cotán stylistically falls within the school of El Escorial, with Venetian influence, and his works can be placed in the transition from Mannerism to Baroque. He was an early pioneer of Tenebrism at the beginning of the golden age of Spanish painting. Although his religious paintings have a primitive sensitivity and a peaceful rhythm, Cotán's high stature in art history rests exclusively on his still lifes, of which only a few are extant. Their severe naturalism has little in common with the artistic style then prevalent.
Sánchez Cotán established the prototype of the Spanish still life, called a bodegón, composed mainly of vegetables. Characteristically, he depicts a few simple fruits or vegetables, some of which hang from a fine string at different levels while others sit on a ledge or window. The forms stand out with an almost geometric clarity against a dark background. This orchestration of still life in direct sunlight against impenetrable darkness is the hallmark of early Spanish still life painting. Each form is scrutinized with such intensity that the pictures take on a mystical quality, and the reality of things is intensified to a degree that no other seventeenth-century painter would surpass.
Some art historians describe Sánchez Cotan’s spare representations as abstemious images and link his work to his later monastic life. They are supposed to express a monastic denial of worldly pleasure and richness. However, his fruits and vegetables are arranged in beautiful ballet like compositions. The Carthusians are vegetarian, but many of his works contain game bird.
He depicted few artifacts, other than the strings from which vegetables and fruits dangle, this being the common means in the seventeenth century of preventing food and vegetables from rotting. Even if the objects are arranged so that they seem close enough to touch, they are nevertheless distanced. For all the realism with which they are depicted, the isolation of each object, heightened further by the black background, lends them a monumental, almost sculptural gravity.