The Still-Lives of Meléndez and Goya

In an earlier post I discussed how world history could be seen through the Dutch still-lives of the 17th century.  That post as well as this were excerpted from my paper Objects and Their Meanings: 400 Years of History as Seen Through the Still-Life.  I spoke on this last year at the NWHA conference where the topic was "Teaching World History Through Art."  I thought this was an excellent conference theme and learned a great deal.  I personally have learned so much of world history by studying art history and wanted to give another illustrating how the viewer can directly see world events affect still-life paintings.  Still-lives can be seen as primary source documents like letters and diaries.  Larger events in history and going to affect what and how everyday objects are shown.
 
Due to the difference in the reigns between King Charles III and King Charles IV we can see a duality in the style of still-life painting in late 18th  and early 19th century Spain.   As my example I will compare and contrast one each of the still-lives of Meléndez and Goya.
Still Life with Watermelons and Apples, Luis Egidio Meléndez, c-1770, Museo del Prado

The reign of Spain’s King Charles III (1716-1788) brought in a new era of prosperity with the conquest of Naples and Sicily.  Charles III was also working on urban planning and turning Madrid into a capitol city, in 1770 he chose a National anthem and flag for the country.  He had several court painters, one being Luis Egidio Meléndez, who painted a series of 40 still-lives for the Royal Palace.  He wanted to depict every type of fruit and vegetable grown in Spain, therefore those paintings can be seen as symbols of Spanish pride.  The following year Melendez painted his Afternoon Meal which reflected the leisure of the aristocracy who were able to picnic in the country on a variety of delicious types of produce and gave some insight into courtly life.

Still-Life with Sheep’s Head, Francisco Goya, 1808-12, Louvre

However after the King’s rule ended in 1788 Spain began to decline politically under the rule of the ineffectual king Charles IV.  Francisco Goya was the royal court painter but he was disillusioned by royalty, often portraying the royal family as buffoonish.  Goya lived through the particularly brutal Napoleonic siege on Madrid in 1808.  As he painted his well-known work, The 3rd of May, which showed the horrors of war on a human scale, he concurrently painted several still-lives such as his Still-Life with Sheep’s Head.  This still-life was one of several where the subject was cut up meat or fish.  The butchered meat still-life wasn’t new but was now painted with a sense of disturbing accuracy and brutality due to the severed head.  The sheep can be seen as an innocent led to slaughter the way the Spanish people were during that terrible time.
The Third of May 1808, Francisco Goya, 1814, Museo del Prado

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