A PAIR OF STILL LIVES OF TULIPS, ORIENTAL HYACINTHS, THISTLES AND OTHER FLOWERS IN DELFT BOWLS ATOP PEDESTALS
Both bear indistinct inscriptions in pencil verso [possibly flower notes]
Watercolour & gouache heightened with gum arabic on vellum
22 x 28.8 & 22 x 29.4 cm respectively
The Prince & Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan, Bellerive Castle, Geneva
Their sale, Christie's, Paris, 06.10.2020, Lot 296 (as Ecole Italienne du XIIe Siecle)
This pair can be dated to the mid-17th century flourishing of still life painting in gouache on vellum, a largely localised specialty confined to Tuscany and primarily to the court of the Medici in Florence. Practitioners of this, such as Giovanni Garzoni, Octavius Montfort and Luisa Maria Vittelli have, in the last fifty years or so, gained increasing visibility. This, together with the efforts of historical scholars to uncover the context of this botanical art, has led to a far better understanding of the Medici Court's, its resident professional artists' and its followers' prolific production of both naturalistic and decorative still life painting. The coalescing of connoisseurship (the delineation of each artist's oeuvres) and historical analysis now renders the task of attribution a much more empirical endeavour than it once was. The largest groups of these works can be found in the Medici collections, housed primarily at the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano and the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, which include paintings by both known artists and aristocratic dilletantes whose names must remain, for now, a mystery.
One artist whose body of works has come to light as a result of this is Lorenzo Todini, an artist whose manner is - of the known artists associated with this period and location - closest to the present pair. Although undoubtedly not by Todini himself, this pair of works is certainly of his period and from his orbit: the oriental hyacinths that are overhanging whose vivid hues compliment the colour of the vases; the strong blue tones in the delftware; and the pedestal's discrete placement within the overall space of the picture (as opposed to Garzoni and Montfort's backgrounds and pedestals which fill their pictures' planes) are all hallmarks of Todini's; however the lack of realistic shadows, naturalistic perspective and the overall attention to fine detail do not qualify these as his. A comparable work, which was formerly attributed to Todini (by Mosco, 1998), can be found at Poggio a Caiano (Inv. 1890, no. 4776), though again it is by a different hand to the present pair [see image 7 for reproduction] (1).
For reference to Todini's works in comparison to the present pair, see the following: Still Life of Flowers in a Vase, Museo della Natura Morta a Villa Medici, Poggia a Caiano, Tuscany (Inv. No. 1890, n. 3524) [see image 8]; a similar Still Life of Flowers, previously with the trade in 1997 in Milan (cf. Zeri No. 85709); Still Life of Flowers in a Vase, attributed to Todini by M.M. Simari (2) in the Uffizi Collection, Florence, Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, inv. no. 2146 orn [see image 9]; that sold at Sotheby's, New York, Old Master Drawings, 25.01.2006, Lot 80 (Still Life of Flowers in a Vase); and that sold at Meeting Art, Vercelli, Dipinti Antiqi Arredi e Design, 29.04.2018, Lot 37 (Vaso di Fiori) [see image 10].
Insight into Todini helps in turn to provide insight into the sort of figure associated with works such as the present pair - a professional artist, though not a name to rival Garzoni or Montfort, either in terms of their contemporary reputation or their prolific output.
Todini is an artist whose works are today exceptionally scarce, the majority of his works being held in private collections and Tuscan institutions (primarily the aforementioned Medici collections). On the basis of his name it is likely that the artist's family hailed from Todi, a small town in Perugia; however, we know that he was born in 1646 in Florence, the son of an associate or member of the Court of the Medici, and that his godfather was Lorenzo de'Medici (after whom he was likely named), one of the great artistic patrons of his age. It is likely that the young Lorenzo grew up in the milieu of court life in Florence, and was apprenticed first to calligrapher and engraver Valerio Spada (1613-1688), who acted as godfather to Lorenzo's first son in 1680. Spada had earned acclaim for his engravings for the Saggi di Naturale Esperienze fatte nell'Accademia del Cimento, an important text recording the experiments and studies of the followers of Galileo and other scientific research of the age (3). Simari notes that in this respect, Todini underwent a similar training to the earlier Garzoni, who had studied under Giacomo Rogni in Venice early in her career (4).
Like Garzoni, and particularly Octavianus Montfort (active c.1650-1700 in Piedmont and Tuscany), Todini's works are characterised by their depictions of blue delftware atop pedestals, often with animals or loose fruit placed either side of the vases. Unlike Montfort, Todini appears to have preferred flowers to fruit and often to have painted elaborate vases with fantastical handles, rather than the less ornate wide Dutch bowls, found in the majority of Montfort's still life paintings and in the present pair (5).
(1) P.E. Acanfora & M.M. Simari, Pergamene fiorite: Pitture di fiori dalle collezioni medicee [Exhib. Cat.], Villa Medici a Poggio a Caiano, 2014, , pp.53-54, Cat. no. 3
(2) M.M. Simari, Seguendo le orme della Garzoni a Firenze: Lorenzo Todini, Artemisia Todini e Luisa Maria Vitelli - In margine alla mostra pergamene fiorite, Amici di Palazzo Pitti Bulletin (2014), pp.40-50 (hereafter Simari)
(3) For a study of Spada's prints in the text, cf. P.D. Massar, The Prints of Valerio Spada II, Print Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 1 (March, 1987), pp. 19-39
(4) Simari, p.41
(5) 5) A.M. Valeri, Ceramica in uso a Firenze fra Settecento e Ottocento, Vol. 1 [La Maiolica], Florence (2019), p.134: "Come gia osservato, la fruttiera di Delft era un grande piatto fondo...spesso decorata in monocromia blue...seguendo il modello cinese...Fruttiere di questo tipo sono spesso rappresentate nelle fonti iconografiche della fine del Seicento, particolarmente nei dipinti di Octavianus Montfort e di Giovanna Garzoni."