‘More beautiful than nature itself’: the early commercial and critical fortunes of Neapolitan baroque still-life painting

Christopher R. Marshall


This article considers the early reception of Neapolitan baroque still-life painting by seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century viewers. Although originating as a relatively cheap and critically under-valued picture type, Neapolitan still life nonetheless came to enjoy widespread popularity in baroque Naples. An analysis of primary and early secondary sources (ranging from payment documents, to art inventories, to early writings on art) reveals a surprisingly high value attached to Neapolitan still life from a relatively early date. This contrasts markedly with the situation in Rome where the local specialists were significantly under-priced relative to their Neapolitan counterparts. Neapolitan still life was highly valued in both a critical as well as an economic sense. Early writing on Neapolitan still life is also remarkably free of the commonplace deprecation of still-life imagery in relation to the supposedly more exalted category of history painting that is found so commonly expressed in other European art-theoretical writings. The positive Neapolitan attitude culminates in Bernardo de’ Dominici’s Vite de’ pittori napoletani (1742–45). While the early Roman biographers tended to downplay the achievements of the Roman still-life specialists or else ignore them altogether, de’ Dominici set the seal on the Neapolitan predilection for still life by writing the first systematic account of a regional school of Italian still-life painting.

Keywords: Naples, baroque art, still-life painting, art-market studies, Luca Forte, Giacomo Recco, Giuseppe Recco

Full text: OAJ_issue6_Marshall (pdf, 1.55 MB)

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2018w07

Biographical note

Christopher R. Marshall is Associate Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at the University of Melbourne. His publications on Neapolitan baroque art include Baroque Naples and the Industry of Painting (Yale University Press, 2016) and contributions to The Economic Lives of Seventeenth-Century Italian Painters (Yale, 2010); Mapping Markets in Europe and the New World (Brepols, 2006); The Art Market in Italy (Pannini, 2002); as well as articles in The Journal of the History of Collecting, The Burlington Magazine, Art Bulletin etc. His publications on museums and curatorship include Sculpture and the Museum (Ashgate, 2011; Routledge, 2016) and contributions to Museum Making, Making Art History and Reshaping Museum Space (Routledge, 2005, 2007 and 2012).