Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber
Juan Sánchez Cotán, 1560–1627
Gift of Anne R. and Amy Putnam, 1945:43
Still-life painting was virtually nonexistent in European art before the 1590s, and Sánchez Cotán is considered not only among the first practitioners of the genre, but also arguably the greatest. This work, moreover, is universally acclaimed as his masterpiece.
Brilliantly executed, the painting is unflinching in its naturalism and simplicity. The mysterious serenity of the composition, in which the objects are positioned in a perfect curve against the deep black background, has led many to question the meaning or function of the image. For some, the work is an exercise in pure painting, the straightforward depiction of vegetables in a cold cellar. Others, however, believe that the picture may have religious overtones, and that it should be understood as a celebration of God’s most humble creations. In support of the latter reading, it is often noted that Sánchez Cotán gave up his possessions and entered a Carthusian monastery soon after painting this canvas.
View a discussion on Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber by Dr. John Marciari, former Curator of European Art.