food in the arts





CAMPI, Vincenzo / ARTISTS before 1650/ MAIN ART film and food  
b. 1536, Cremona, d. 1591, Cremona

literature and food 

The Campi was a family of Italian painters in Cremona in the 16th century. In the north of Italy, where they had the splendid example of the Venetians and some knowledge of Flemish and German art, the contrasts of light and shade could express the Mannerist feeling perfectly, as in the work of the Campi at Cremona.
The head of the family was Galeazzo Campi (1477-1536), a pupil of Boccaccio Boccaccini. His close contacts with Tommaso Aleni are assumed, owing to stylistic alliance. In his landscapes influences from Giovanni Bellini and Perugino can be observed. He was the father of Giulio, Antonio and Vincenzo.
Vincenzo Campi (1536-1591) trained under his brother Giulio. He painted mainly saints and portraits as well as genre-like still-lifes, like the two fruit and fishmongers’ paintings at the Brera, Milan. Both show that he was influenced by Pieter Aertsen.

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The Brothers Campi: Images and Devotion…-amazon fr
The Fruit Seller
c. 1580

Oil on canvas, 145 x 215 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

The Brothers Campi: Images and Devotion:…-amazon UK

The intensification of agriculture from the early 16th century onwards was accompanied by the promotion of the botanical sciences. These new insights then influenced the ‘pater familias’ literature, which also included advice on the improvement of fruit farming. It is worth noting that early market, kitchen and pantry paintings (e.g. by Joachim Beuckelaer, Frans Snyders and Adriaen van Utrecht) displayed not only vegetables piled up in baskets, but also fruits of all kinds, bulging out over the edge of the plate. Fruit included everything that grew on trees, such as apples, pears, nuts, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, quinces, chestnuts, etc., as well as shrub fruit, such as blackberries, raspberries and currants.

Fruit was always one of the last courses in a banquet. In the cuisine of the landed gentry and the merchant classes, great emphasis was therefore placed o the more refined fruits: wild fruit from the woods, fields and meadows were considered inferior, as they were smaller and had less taste. Every larger household therefore had an orchard that was laid out and cultivated according to the latest knowledge, where summer and winter fruits were grown that had to be frost-resistant and suitable for longer storage. Similar to nowadays, people valued firmness and a rich, juicy consistency, brought about by hybridization and special methods of cultivation.

In earlier still-lifes the different fruits were still neatly separated, and depicted either as market products or freshly harvested and straight from the trees or shrubs, as in Vincenzo Campi’s paintings. Later, the motif of the market or pantry with its emphasis on variety was increasingly given up in favour of isolated fruit baskets where different fruits were put together like flower arrangements. One of the first example is Caravaggio’s Fruit Basket from about 1596

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Hunger as Divine: Dante’s Divine Comedy


Chicken Vendors

Oil on canvas
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
The painting shows the influence of Pieter Aertsen.  


Oil on canvas
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Occasionally it is hard to distinguish market scenes from the genre of early kitchen scenes which also tended to display still-life features. Similar to the market stall, they often show tables and sideboards with clusters of baskets and bowls full of fruit and vegetables.

Yet despite structural similarities there are still differences with regard to the subject. While market stalls illustrate the commercialisation of agriculture and the principle of agro-economic production, kitchen and pantry paintings are dominated by the aspect of satisfying the needs of domestic economy, usually in a feudal or re-feudalized upper middle class household. Leaving aside the fact that these paintings grossly exaggerate the wealth of the day, the ostentatious display of the fruit of the earth proves that the principles of the ‘paterfamilias’ literature were observed even in the non-market-oriented system of domestic self-supply. These principles demanded an improved utilisation of the soil by extending the agricultural acreage and intensifying agriculture, as well as by improving crop sequences and fertilization and, in part, by transforming ploughed fields into gardens.

The subject of food supply was particularly interest to those who commissioned and bought these paintings. The production and preparation of food were the most important economic problems of society, which explains their central position in contemporary iconography.