The “Still life” in The Santi’s Workshop

Detail of the "Winter" still life

Still life is a genre repeated in The Santi’s Workshop because the “trompe-l’oeils” are a consequence of this genre. A “trompe-loeil”, like the ones I perform and expose here, is a still life or “hidden” still life. Or rather, it is as “hidden” in a reality or real scenario. The also called “trampantojos” can be landscapes too, or urban or natural scenes. But in this case I use mostly the also called “natures mortes” or “bodegones”.

Bodegones y naturalezas muertas dentro de varios trampantojos
“Bodegones” and still lifes in varius trompe-l’oeils

Still life , “bodegón” in spanish, is a name related to the kitchen, derived from the cellar or place where the food is stored. Also called more recently and in different places “cupboards” or “fresqueras”. These latter used in rural areas when there was no electricity. They are an interior receptacle in a house as a closet, but open to the outside, to the fresh air, by some of its sides. This side is open to the outside to keep the food that requires it fresh and airy. But partially closed with some kind of net or work to prevent the entry of insects and small animals.

s a name related to the kitchen, derived from the cellar or place where the food is stored. Also called more recently and in different places “cupboards” or “fresqueras”. These latter used in rural areas when there was no electricity. They are an interior receptacle in a house as a closet, but open to the outside, to the fresh air, by some of its sides. This side is open to the outside to keep the food that requires it fresh and airy. But partially closed with some kind of net or work to prevent the entry of insects and small animals.

Bodegón en el trampantojo "Judias con chorizo"
Detail of still life in the “trompe-l’oeil” “Judias con chorizo”

That said to explain the origin of the still life as a pictorial genre. In the baroque, Spanish and European, it was a very common and widespread genre among most authors. There were specialists, some with almost exclusive dedication. There are also detractors of still life as a genre. I have explained this in a previous publication (The Velázquez’s coupboard). But these detractors were minorities and the genre of still life was fully integrated into the art of painting. This has been demonstrated by the evolution of art history.

The expression of still life

The challenge of still life, in many cases, is to make the sensations of the rest of the senses reach the observer. The smell, taste, sound, touch or texture, the latter more affordable to drawing and painting than the previous ones. To give an example, the still lifes of Willen Claesz, precursor of hyperrealism. As in almost all the Flemish painting of the moment, its exact and profiled drawing makes perfect the representation of hard materials, such as glass, metal, stone, etc.

Still life (left) by Willen Claesz. Heda, source of inspiration for the trompe-l’oeil (right), by Santiago Ortega

On the contrary, in other cases, as are the many authors of “bodegones” in Spain and France, (Sanchez Cotán, Velázquez, Jean Siméon Chardin, Luis Meléndez, etc.) they reach the imitation of the materials represented by brushstrokes. Building the light and the textures through the interaction of drawing and brushstroke, giving the latter more prominence. Thus they manage to represent the fruits and vegetables with their freshness, getting to differentiate what is ripe from what is not yet.

Bodegón de Caravaggio en La cena de Emaus (National Gallery of London)
Still life of Caravaggio in The dinner of Emaus (National Gallery of London)

The “bodegones” and the allegory

And this is achieved through the pictorial technique and the use of color, resulting in the final vision of the work. Thus transmitting to the observer the sensations and natural characteristics of the represented.
The still life used as an allegory makes more use of drawing and composition in its representation (Antonio de Pereda) than the “kitchens bodegones”. The latter seeks the texture and naturalism of its representations through the pictorial technique, in search of the visual and sensual effects of those what I commented at the beginning. In this explicit way a symbolic value is given to what is represented.

For example, I refer again to Willen Claesz. Heda. In their still lifes, “bodegones” or “natures mortes”, we can see that the objects represented are beautiful, precious and perfect in many cases. But among them it appears in some cases delicate glasses or broken and fragmented glass containers. With this, the author wants to represent and symbolize the fragility of material life. That is an allegory within a still life.

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