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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Four Spectacular Italian 17th century Citrus Watercolors in the Arader Galleries Collection

After consulting David Freedberg and Enrico Baldini’s book titled 'The Paper Museum of Cassiano Dal Pozzo, Cirtus Fruit,' here is some background information regarding four spectacular citrus watercolors now available for $125,000 each.

The book catalogues a series of watercolor and gouache drawings of citrus fruit, most of which were commissioned to illustrate Giovanni Battista Ferrari’s book 'Hesperides,' an ambitious attempt at a complete taxonomy and classification of the entire citrological world, which was published in Rome in 1646. Cassiano dal Pozzo, known as one of the most important art patrons in 17th century Italy,  played a fundamental role in this project, conducting preliminary research, fundraising, and collecting the physical specimens from across Italy. He also commissioned and supplied most of the drawings by various artists and arranged for them to be engraved for Ferrari’s projected work.

Freedberg’s book does a fine job of organizing the citrus drawings – they are grouped under the headings of citrons, lemons, oranges, pummelos, hybrids, teratological citrus fruit, and unidentified citrus fruit. Often alongside an illustrated watercolor, engravings from Ferrari’s Hesperides are depicted which make for a wonderful juxtaposition between the citrus prints and watercolors. In many
cases, the authors indicate in their individual descriptions of each watercolor when a work is or is not reproduced in Ferrari’s Hesperides.

The four citrus fruit watercolors owned by Arader Galleries are among the pages of Freedberg’s book:
Plates 2 and 3: Gourd-shaped citron, Citrus medica L.: whole fruit; Gourd-shaped citron, Citrus medica L.: half-fruit (illustrated on page 111)
Plate 78: Citron, Citrus medica L.: crowned whole and half fruit (page 223)
Plate 117: Citrus, Citrus sp.: fruiting branch (page 273)
Plate 118: Citrus, Citrus sp.: anomalous fruiting branch (page 275)

Freedberg attributes most of the plates to Vincenzo Leonardi, 17th century Italian, or ? Vincenzo Leonardi. He only sites plate 97 and 98 to ?Giovanna Garzoni.  Interestingly, plate 98 recently came up at Sotheby’s as part of the sale titled 'Property from the Collection of Charles Ryskamp' on January 25, 2011. The catalogers attributed lot 122, a still-life of whole and halved citrus fruits, to Giovanna Garzoni, created with watercolor and bodycolor heightened with lead white over black chalk on vellum. In the provenance description, the Sotheby's catalogers site Freedberg, page 251 plate 98. This link will show you the image:


This same image is in fact illustrated in Freedberg’s book, and reads as its title: Lemon, Citrus limon (L.) Burm. F.: two twin- fingered fruits.

On page 58, Freedberg discusses this work attributed to Garzoni, and he makes an interesting comparison to the works of Leonardi. I quote: “Two drawings – 97 and 98 – are on vellum, and are at least as good as any by Leonardi in terms of refinement of handling. But unlike the fruits he shows, the specimens represented by this artist are shown in a delicately oblique perspectival setting, in two cases even with the indication of a shelf or step on which they seem to rest. This suggestion of a setting in depth is unlike any of Leonardi’s drawings. The stippling in these drawings on vellum is very fine and minute indeed, and bears a marked resemblance to the fruit and still-life drawings by Giovanna Garzoni, such as those shown in the watercolors on vellum of The Old Man of Artiminio, and the three still lifes with cherries, an open pomegranate, an melons, all in the Palazzo Pitti.” [The Palazzo Pitti has a rich history as a royal palace, but in 1919 it became one of Florence’s largest public art galleries, which is still utilized as such today.]

Despite this argument, Freedberg makes it known to his reader that he has questions regarding attribution. Therefore, I feel it is only fair to speculate that the works attributed to Leonardi and Garzoni are virtually interchangeable to a certain respect.

Interesting to note, three comparable citrus watercolors are currently hanging in the Victoria and Albert Museum:

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