Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Luis Meléndez, Spanish Still Life Painter

Luis Meléndez (1715–1780) is now recognized as the premier still-life painter in 18th-century Spain, indeed one of the greatest in all of Europe.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is hosting an exhibit of this great painter's works--an artist who was not appreciated in his time. He died a pauper.

After taking in all the beauty of his artistry as I passed through the galleries, I wanted to sit down and have a feast of all the gorgeous, sensual food depicted in these incredible oils. After consistently being rejected as a portrait painter for the royals in Spain, Meléndez was commissioned, in the late 1700s, by the Prince of Asturias, later King Charles IV of Spain to do a series of paintings representing the abundance of foods that was the basis of Spain's cuisine.

Meléndez painted these foods uncooked--fish, hams, beef, and every sort of vegetable and fruit--so that when one looked at the paintings, one had to use her imagination to think of how the various foods would be used to make an elaborate and memorable meal.

One thing that impressed me was that the fruits and vegetables Meléndez painted had not been sprayed with any sort of chemical, so when one observes his paintings, one sees the little worm holes and bruises that are natural to the fruits and vegetables. We consumers are accustomed to seeing the perfect flesh of fruits and vegetable--which would not be natural without chemical sprays and contaminants--but that perfection is not real, and we pay a dear price with our health and in the contamination of the soil and the skins of the fruits and vegetable for this unnatural perfection.

I left the exhibit with hunger pangs--not just for the voluptuous foods on exhibit, but for a time when people were able to consume them without worrying about the toxins that accumulate in our fatty tissues because we demand unnatural perfection and unnatural color in our fruits and vegetables.


  1. Ah, but general life expectancy was only about 30 years and a factor in that was nutrition.

  2. True. But I'm guessing other factors for short life expectancy were lack of hygene--indoor plumbing--washing, penicillin and antibiotics, plus deaths from abscessed teeth and childbirth.

  3. The painting of the watermelons takes me back to the day when they had seeds and flavor. Would love to see these in reality.

  4. I'm sure that's true, but In my opinion the dangers of modern farming are vanishingly small in comparison to the dangers of 18th century life. Worm holes and blemishes aside, such things were expensive and only available for a short time every year. A diet of salt cod and pickled cabbage had a lot to do with making people on average a foot shorter and more susceptible to disease. One in five crops failed without pesticides and famines were frequent. People were often poisoned by ergot mold in the wheat.

    I've never seen any scientific studies showing any evidence that people on "organic" diets live longer or are more healthy.


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