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The fish stall
16th Century
The fish stall
[La Pescheria]
Oil on canvas
112 x 152 cm  [HxW]
Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini, Roma

Like The Butcher Stall, it was one of a group of four paintings formerly in the Mattei collection, where it is recorded in the inventories up to 1826 (Testa 1995), before being donated in 1927 to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini in Rome. The painting has not enjoyed the same favour among critics as The Butcher Stall. It is unanimously dated to about 1580.

With an insistence on naturalism, the painting shows a couple of old people behind a stall entirely decked with various varieties of fish, shells, turtles and crustaceans. The man appears to be calling the observer’s attention to a beautiful shell, while the woman nonchalantly displays a globefish. This detail of the painting has been used by some scholars to give an erotic interpretation to the work. But Guarino (1996) considers this to be somewhat excessive, pointing out that the globefish was in fact contained in many scientific collections of the late Cinquecento, and that there was a watercolour plate of the same subject in Aldrovandi’s museum.

An important precedent for this has been identified by Guarino (1996) in Passerotti’s Merry Company (1577, Paris, Rosenberg collection), in which the still life is used to emphasise the severe moral message of the painting.

Tullia Carratù

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