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Vases and Onions
Nuzzi, Mario (Mario dei Fiori)
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Nuzzi, Mario (Mario dei Fiori)

Rome, 1603 - Rome (Italy), 1673

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Vases and Onions

1640 - 1642. Oil on canvas Room 005

These four paintings of flowers and sumptuary objects (P250, P251, P252 and P3239) are part of those sent from Rome to Madrid by Mario Nuzzi and other artists for the decoration of the Buen Retiro Palace. Nuzzi, also known as Mario dei Fiori, studied with his uncle Tommaso Salini, a follower of Caravaggio and one of the first still-life specialists active in Rome after the latter’s death. Nuzzi drew his interest in Caravaggio’s naturalism from Salini and it is very present in the works shown here.

Nuzzi’s participation in the Retiro project reveals the experimental character it adopted in Rome. Like Claude Lorrain and other artists, at the time of his involvement Nuzzi was an unknown youth whose participation can only be explained through his association with the Barberini and their circle, which supported many of the Roman artists involved. The tutelage of erudite Cassiano dal Pozzo must have been of fundamental importance. Cassiano belonged to the court of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Pope Urban VIII’s nephew, and one of his many interests was botany. His library included botanical drawings made directly from nature, which must have been very useful to Nuzzi and other painters protected by dal Pozzo, including Jacopo Ligozzi, Giovanna Garzoni and Pietro Paolo Bonzi, during the years of their education.

Nuzzi’s earliest works are unknown, but it is established that in 1642 he participated in meetings at the Accademia di San Luca, Rome. His first signed and dated works are four circular garlands of flowers from 1650, inside which he painted scenes from the Old Testament, now held at the monastery of El Escorial, Madrid. Still, Nuzzi’s production must certainly have begun much earlier, especially since he is listed as his uncle’s assistant in documents from as early as 1621, when he was only eighteen years old.

Nuzzi was not the only artist from whom still-life paintings were requested for the Buen Retiro Palace. Others also received commissions, including the mysterious Master S.B., but it has not been possible to clarify how they collaborated, if in fact they did. Nor do we know the content of the document sent from Madrid (if one existed) with instructions for the painters. Such a document would have specified the large size and horizontal format for the works -which would have posed serious difficulties for the artists- and may also have indicated the need to consider that they would be hung very high at the palace; specifically, above windows and balconies.

The flower genre was then in its initial stages of development, following innovations by Caravaggio such as Lutenist, 1595-96 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg), which includes a bouquet of flowers in a glass vase. These paintings brought a new awareness of the genre’s possibilities to Caravaggio’s contemporaries. Corresponding works from the early seventeenth century reflect that initial stage of development, with modest dimensions and vertical formats adapted to the need to represent a vase or a bouquet. Caravaggio imbued such works with a symbolic or metaphorical content that transcends their purely decorative interest, but this was of no interest to Nuzzi and is not appreciable in his flower paintings for the Buen Retiro.

The clearest evidence of the artist’s difficulties with the challenges proposed by the promoters of this project appears in Vases of flowers, c.1640-42, which can be described as a rather clumsy effort to meet the demands of Nuzzi’s Spanish patrons. This might even be the first painting of the entire series, as Nuzzi tried numerous unsuccessful solutions that he later corrected. Here he fills the space with various elements that lack any connection to each other, as if he had joined a group of individual paintings with no real sense of composition. An intense light with great power in the foreground shines from the left, illuminating a bouquet of flowers, two tulips and two flower vases placed in a rocky and imprecise setting. The vase on the right is the most convincing, but the final result is a monotonous work in which Nuzzi displays his incapacity to modulate points of interest, light and planes.

The difference between this work and others the artist made for this project indicates that either they were painted over a long period of time, or Nuzzi had a surprising ability to rapidly adapt to the demands of his Spanish clients. The leap in quality is appreciable, for example, in Vases and onions, c.1640-42, in which all the elements in the painting are reasonably placed. First of all, the space is more convincing, not only because the light is more even, but also because Nuzzi avoids placing the objects in different planes. Moreover, he avoids asymmetries, organising the objects in a more balanced and serene manner. The other works exhibited here reveal the artist’s ambition and inexhaustible catalogue of resources for making his compositions more varied and surprising; masterfully juxtaposing objects with various qualities, such as vases, violins, sumptuous cloths of various colours, wicker baskets, musical instruments and a squirrel, who remains indifferent to our gaze.

These paintings should be considered some of Nuzzi’s earliest known works, in keeping with the overall chronology established for the Buen Retiro commissions. Therefore, it seems right to date them between 1637 and 1642, when commissions for this project ceased in Italy (Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, pp. 208-210).

Technical data

Related artworks

Vase of Flowers
Oil on canvas, 1640 - 1642
Vases of Flowers
Oil on canvas, 1640 - 1642
Overturned Silver Vase on a Cloth
Oil on canvas, 1640 - 1642
Florero
Oil on canvas, XVII century
Inventory number
P003239
Author
Nuzzi, Mario (Mario dei Fiori)
Title
Vases and Onions
Date
1640 - 1642
Technique
Oil
Support
Canvas
Dimension
Height: 83 cm.; Width: 154 cm.
Series
Serie de bodegones de flores, sobreventanas para el Palacio del Buen Retiro
Provenance
Royal Collection (Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, 1701, [nº 137]; Buen Retiro, 1794, nº 584).

Bibliography +

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa del ciento cincuenta aniversario de la fundación del Museo del Prado, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Madrid, 1970.

Pintura española de bodegones y floreros de 1600 a Goya /, Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas, Madrid, 1983, pp. 117.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 468.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc., Nueva York, 1986.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, I, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Bettagno, Alessandro, El Museo del Prado, Fonds Mercator Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 289.

Cherry, Peter, Arte y naturaleza: el bodegón español en el siglo de oro, Ediciones Doce Calles, Aranjuez, 1999, pp. 318/ lám.255.

Ubeda de los Cobos, A, Mario Nuzzi 'Vases and onions' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 208-211.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. [137].
[137] Un pintura de siette quartas de largo y Uara de alto Con Un florero y Unas Zeuollas original del Mariio Con marco tallado y dorado tasada en Veintte y Cinco doblones ... 1500

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 584.
Otra [pintura] del Mario, con un florero y unas Cebollas, de 7 quartas de largo y vª. de alto...400

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 2706.
Idm. / 2706. Un florero con cebollas. / Alto 3 Pies; Ancho 5 Pies, 6 pulg.

Exhibitions +

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
Melbourne
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Location +

Room 005 (On Display)

Expuesto

Displayed objects +

Flower Arrangement

Basketry

Update date: 25-07-2019 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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