Yet while it ran only a few weeks, and despite torrential rains and a dearth of tourists in Florence, it was exceedingly well attended, to the extent that social distancing had to be enforced in the suite of rooms that made up the exhibition space. The style of still-life painting she perfected, working in gouache on vellum, was characterised by brilliant colours; the forms of blooms and fruit were usually built up meticulously with minute dots of paint and it was through such a precise technique that she was able to convey an unerring sensitivity to nuances of texture and form. Commissioned as a gift for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, this is the only known example of textile work by Garzoni, although records show that she was often engaged with such materials.
They have since then been rediscovered and among such works the still lifes of Giovanna Garzoni (1600–70) are worthy of special attention. Her work on Renaissance and early modern women and art ranges from the monograph Ange ou diablesse. A breath-taking tempera-on-parchment depiction of a bunch of exotic flowers arranged in a Yixing porcelain vase, flanked by two exotic shells and surmounted by butterflies, evokes the four elements (shells = water, ceramic vase = fire[d], flowers = earth, butterflies = air). With new labels for some of its most contested objects the museum is engaging in an important conversation – but has it got the tone wrong? Lapdog with Biscotti and a Chinese Cup (c. 1648), Giovanna Garzoni. Contact with the new scientific academies in Rome, with Cassiano dal Pozzo, and Florence, with Jacopo Ligozzi, gave Garzoni exposure to the period enthusiasm for gardens and plants, and the widespread production of botanical images commissioned by enthusiasts.
His botanical studies conformed to the pictorial conventions established for herbals, and she certainly worked in this manner, but she also painted more expansively, creating independent still lifes and inferring the passage of time and a far wider set of cultural references: the chips on bowls and bloom on fruit, which is just about to pass the point at which it would be edible, are lovingly recorded. A delightful aspect of the exhibition is the juxtaposition of the objects depicted in the Garzoni still-lifes with the same (or practically identical) objects held in Florentine collections or other museums derived from the “curiosity cabinets” of early modern Italy (see picture of socially distanced visitor, above). Flies, butterflies, snails, grasshoppers and occasionally birds land on the tables where her subjects are laid out for scrutiny. The annoying flies on the biscuit add an amusing touch that is not unusual in Italian painting, and can be traced back to an anecdote about a fly painted by Giotto. In terms of the evolution of Tuscan botanical illustration and still-life painting Garzoni’s career falls between that of Jacopo Ligozzi (1547–1626) and the later, refulgent creations of Bartolomeo Bimbi (1648–1729).
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