Saturday in the Museum with Giovanna

Image: Giovanna Garzoni, “Cherries on a Plate, Broad Beans, and Bumblebee” (ca. 1665)

On Saturdays we divert our attention from writing about the D.C. dining world to focus on art.  For the last few weeks we’ve suspended writing about restaurants other than to keep two lists updates.  The first list is ways to help employees in the industry hit hard by this disaster.  The second list is of links for gift cards and takeout for restaurants.  We have, however, continued to post on art on Saturday and have continued to focus on the theme of still life paintings because the intersection with the world of food appeals to us.

For today’s post, we move from the Netherlands to Italy.  We also go back to 2002, when the National Gallery of Art did an exhibition on “Botanical Art for the Medici.”  The exhibit focused on three artists, one of whom was Giovanna Garzoni.  The exhibit catalogue gives this profile:

“The popularity of still-life painting continued to grow in Tuscany during this period. The grand duke’s emissaries, scattered all over Europe, succeeded in acquiring many paintings by the most widely known Dutch and Flemish masters. Some of these, like Willem van Aelst and Otto Marseus van Schrieck, even worked in Florence for periods of time, while local artists such as Agnolo Gori, Bartolomeo Ligozzi (grandson of the great Jacopo Ligozzi), and Carlo Dolci began to apply themselves to the genre, often with a more markedly naturalistic approach than that of the Dutch school.  It was against this cultural background, in which the threads of art and science were so closely interwoven, that Giovanna Garzoni—one of the most important woman painters in the history of Italian art—came to Florence. She spent several years there (1642-1651) and consolidated her already brilliant reputation as a still-life painter, becoming one of the preferred artists of the Medici court.

Born in the town of Ascoli in the region of the Marches in 1600, Garzoni completed various youthful works that demonstrated a precocious talent. In 1616 she went to Rome, where she found herself immediately immersed in an ambience dominated by the innovative ideas of the Accademia dei Lincei, which had been founded by the nobleman Federico Cesi and of which Galileo was an illustrious member. In Rome the pharmacist Enrico Corvino encouraged the young artist to dedicate herself to botanical painting, advising her to study the engravings in what was still considered by European botanists the canonical text on the subject, Mattioli’s Commentarii, and recommending in particular the beautiful edition printed in Venice in 1565.” (p. 77)

Many of Garzoni’s painting are almost scientific in exactness, depicting a single plant down to its roots.  In addition to those stark paintings she did more traditional still lifes of flowers and fruit.

“Next to her floral paintings, Garzoni also executed many charming still lifes consisting of bowls overflowing with fruits or vegetables that ranged from prized delicacies to modest products of the kitchen garden. A series of twenty such works, executed in gouache on vellum between 1650and 1662 for Ferdinando II, is today in the Gallería Palatina of the Palazzo Pitti. These vibrant paintings display a conscious yet subtle balance between scientific realism and decorative beauty, between symbolism and the naturalistic rendition of reality. The subjects include fruits that were particularly sought after in the seventeenth century to grace the tables of the aristocracy, because they were not only a pleasure to the palate but also a delight to the eye.”

The painting above is one of those at the Gallería Palatina.

For those of you missing out of the National Gallery of Art, or other museums, many of them are doing online programming.  NGA is doing daily posts, often with video of expert commentary.  Be sure to check that out.


If you want to stay updated on these posts, or ways to help restaurants, be sure to follow us on social media.  Someday, I don’t know when, I don’t how, we’ll eat again in restaurants, some sunny day.  When that time comes, we’ll be doing our best to keep you updated.  Until then, be safe, stay healthy.