Grão Vasco Museum
Baltazar Gomes Figueira (attributed) (1604, Óbidos-1674, Óbidos)
Oil on canvas
H: 41 cm; w: 161 cm
Has long been part of the permanent collection of Grão Vasco Museum
Still Life /bodegones
Baltazar Gomes Figueira was born and worked in Óbidos, although he studied in Seville where he worked with the great 17th-century Spanish painters Francisco Herrera, Zurbaran and Juan de Castillo. There he probably learned how to paint bodegones, a Spanish term given to both still-life and domestic interiors, and sometimes featuring kitchen scenes. This type of still-life painting was very much appreciated in the 16th century as a result of the growing artistic interest in scenes from daily life as well as an increased curiosity in the natural sciences. In the framework of the Baroque aesthetic, the still-life genre conveys transcendental values through the depiction of inanimate objects.
The painting is composed of three elemental groups: on the left-hand side the fish lying on the bare table represent the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, strength and temperance. The fish, separated from the other parts of the painting, are immersed in an intense penumbra and illuminated with a luminous white.
Lying on a light-green tablecloth are the other two groups: four dead birds – a sparrow, green woodpecker, duck and partridge – represent disrespect, human fragility and vice, lust and temptation. The grapes lying within this ensemble represent redemption of all these sins through the Eucharist.
Finally, on the right-hand side on the tablecloth, are a silver plate and some regional pottery beside the confectionery and fruit, these elements are symbolic of abundance, sensual desire, prosperity and immortality. The combinations of the four elements in each group are inked with the Four Seasons, the Four Elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) and with the Four Principles of Human Existence (Mind, Body, Spirit and Soul).
The vivid detail, seen in the realistic drops of water near the fish for example, draw attention to the magical chiaroscuro accentuated by thin, transparent layers of paint.
This still-life depicting fish, birds, fruit, confectionery, silverware and pottery was probably painted by Baltazar Gomes Figueira. It reveals two opposing realities: the spiritual world symbolised by four fish and a bunch of grapes, and the earthly reality and its dangers embodied in four dead birds, fruit and confectionery.
Grão Vasco Museum
Serrão, V., Josefa de Óbidos e o Tempo do Barroco, catalogue, Palácio da Ajuda, 1991.
Serrão, V., Uma obra prima do pintor seiscentista Baltazar Gomes Figueira, Éden Gráfico, Viseu, 1994.
Rouge et or: trésors du Portugal Barroque, catalogue, Musée André Jacquemart, Paris, 2001.
Copyright images: Divisão de Documentação Fotográfica /Instituto dos Museus e Conservação,IP.
Graça Marcelino "Still-Life" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2017. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;pt;Mus11_A;2;en
Prepared by: Graça MarcelinoGraça Marcelino
AFFILIATION: Grão Vasco Museum, Viseu
TITLE: Curator of Paintings (16th–20th Century)
Graça Marcelino is a History graduate who is currently employed at the Grão Vasco Museum as Curator in charge of Paintings (16th-20th Century), Sculpture and Ceramics. She has worked at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon and previous to that was responsible for the reorganisation of the Terra de Miranda Museum in Trás-os-Montes province.
Translation by: Cristina CorreiaCristina Correia
AFFILIATION: Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon and MWNF
TITLE: Senior Teacher, Local Co-ordinator and Vice-President of MWNF
Cristina Correia is a History graduate and, since 1985, a Senior Teacher of History at the Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon where she also lectures in Portuguese Language and Culture for non-native speakers. From 1987 to 1998 she was involved with youth affairs, primary prevention and the Camões Institute. She is Vice-President and Local Co-ordinator (Portugal) for MWNF.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 02