I once thought to build a new house. Plans were drawn up and submitted by the designer with details of a kitchen with windows that overlooked a ravine. The designer self-assuredly waited for my approval of the plans and was taken aback when I wanted to replace a set of windows in the kitchen with a blank wall. “Why would you want to do this? You’re blocking most of the view”. I looked at her with an insight that would make little sense to one who has yet to experience the evocative pairing of food and art in Italy. Without hesitation, I said “But I need a blank wall in the kitchen to hang the Caravaggio”.
The Caravaggio I was referring to was Still Life with a Basket of Fruit (circa 1559), a painting by Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It hangs in Milan’s Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Ambrosian Library) and also in my kitchen. Not the original of course but a copy that was given to me many years ago by my aunt. She was at one time what would have been referred to as a “career woman”. She began working during the Great Depression and continued to work until she was in her late 70’s. She had no children, became a widow early in her life and developed a love of world travel, traveling to Japan, China, Russia, Australia and throughout Europe before globetrotting was du jour. She liked art and Italy and what follows is the Caravaggio. It is a fairly nice copy, well framed and shows a wicker basket filled with peaches, pears, apples, grapes and figs perched on the edge of a ledge. Painted on already used canvas the muted colors, less than perfect condition of the fruit and somewhat shriveled leaves are typical Caravaggio. The brooding, naturalistic character of his paintings mimics the life of Caravaggio (1571-1660) who lived hard and died young.
On my last trip to Italy I was able to see Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit at the Ambrosiana. I stared at it for what must have been a half hour. It was another one of those “memories that last a lifetime” moments I’ve had traveling in Italy. Little did I know that my aunt’s Caravaggio hanging on the wall of my kitchen would become a reality for me in the gallery of Milan’s Biblioteca.
You ask about the house? Did I ever build it? It’s still on the drawing board. Like designing a house around a Kohler facet, I’ve yet to find the perfect architect for a Caravaggio.
Here is a picture of the Caravaggio in my kitchen.