Jean - Luc Baroni Ltd


Luis Meléndez

Naples 1716 – 1780 Madrid

A Dessert Still-Life with Bread, Jelly Boxes and Two Honey Pots



Oil on canvas. Monogrammed at lower right:  L. M. Reverse of canvas bears the collection mark of the Infante Don Sebastián Gabriel Borbón y Braganza (1811-1875).

36.8 x 49.2 cms. (14 ½ x 19 ⅜ in.)


Sold to a Private Collection.


PROVENANCE:  The Infante Don Sebastián Gabriel Borbón y Braganza, in whose collection this Dessert Still-Life is recorded in 1835 as in the Pieza de despacho [i.e., Study] of his Picture Gallery, “90. Otro en id. [canvas] de 1 pie y 4 1/2 pulgadas de alto, por 1 pie y 9 1/2 pulgadas de ancho.  Hay en el unos trenzados unas cajas de dulces y dos tarros de lo mismo.  Está restaurado por Bueno y tiene marco tallado y dorado ... Luis Meléndez (firmado)”; thence by descent to his son  Don Luis de Borbón y Borbón, duque de Ansola; thence by descent to his son Don Manfredo de Borbón y Bernaldo de Quiros (1893-1979), duque de Hernani; thence by descent to the former owners; acquired by a Private Collection in 2004.


LITERATURE:  J. Cavestany, Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española, Madrid, 1936-40, p. 161 and pl. LXV, no. 2; La Galleria de Pinturas de S.A.R. el Sermo. Señor. Ynfante Don Sebastián Gabriel, in M. Agueda Villar, “La colección de pinturas del infante Don Sebastián Gabriel”, in Boletin del Museo del Prado, III, 8, May-August 1982, p. 109, no. 90; J.J. Luna, in Luis Meléndez, bodegonista español del siglo XVIII, exhibition catalogue [The Prado], Madrid, 1982, illustrated on p. 30; E. Tufts, “Luis Meléndez, Still-Life Painter sans pareil”, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, VI, C, 1982, p. 160, no. 66, illustrated; L.C. Gutiérrez Alonso, “Precisiones a la cerámica de los bodegones de Luis Meléndez”, in Boletin del Museo del Prado, XII, 4, 1983, p. 166; E. Tufts, Luis Meléndez:Eighteenth-Century Master of the Spanish Still-life with a Catalogue Raisonne, Columbia, 1985, p. 99, no. 73, illustrated on p. 181; J.J. Luna, Los alimentos de España en la pintura:Bodegones de Luis Meléndez, Madrid, 1995, no. 30; P. Cherry, in Luis Meléndez.Bodegones, exhibition catalogue (The Prado) with J.J. Luna and N. Seseña, 2004, pp. 196-98; to be included in Doctor Peter Cherry’s forthcoming monograph on the artist.


EXHIBITED:  Madrid, Palacio de la Biblioteca Nacional, Floreros y bodegones en la pintura española, May 1935, no. 82; Madrid, Cumunidad de Madrid, Tesoros de las colecciones particulares madrileñas, 1987, no. 87; Madrid, The Prado, Luis Meléndez.Bodegones, 2004, no. 21.


The accession of the Bourbon dynasty in the persons of Philip Vand his descendents to the throne of Spain in the early Eighteenth Century led to a gradual revival of the arts in that country.  Major commissions were at first given to foreigners, usually French or Italian, but this began to change with the establishment of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando for the training of native artists in 1752 and the opening of similar institutions in the provinces.  The pace of renewal quickened when Charles IIIsucceeded FerdinandVIin 1759.  The new King founded a number of royal manufactories, like those he had inaugurated in Naples, which nurtured the talents of local artists, such as Francisco Goya who became one of the greatest Spanish painters of all times.

Although the teachings of the Academia were intended to promote a grand official manner for the decoration of churches and palaces, secondary genres, including still-life which had been dominated by foreigners in the earlier part of the century, also received encouragement.  Luis Meléndez – the last great exponent of the Spanish still-life tradition  – benefited from this new climate.  Born in Naples, Meléndez returned as an infant to Spain with his parents in 1717.   Francisco Antonio, his father, enjoyed a flourishing career as a painter of miniatures for the Court and the nobility, and by 1725 had attained the title of Pintor de miniatura de la casa real.  Francisco Antonio had petitioned Philip Vto establish an academy as early as 1726, and he was appointed honorary director of painting when Ferdinand VIfounded the provisional Academia in 1744.  Luis Meléndez was among the first students admitted, achieving outstanding results in drawing.  The young artist gave expression to this hopeful moment in the glamorous Self-Portrait (signed and dated 1746), now in The Louvre, where he holds what may be one of his prize-winning academies in red chalk. He seemed destined for a glittering career:  then disaster struck.  His father quarrelled with the Director of the Academia over a silly question of precedence.  He wrote a defamatory letter of resignation which he then published and had his son deliver in person.   As a result, Francisco Antonio was relieved of his teaching position, while Luis was expelled from the Academia.  Official favour was never to smile on him again.

Francisco Antonio paid for his son’s obligatory trip to Rome. Luis stayed in Italy for four years, visiting Naples where he was received by Charles VII [the future Charles III of Spain] who seemed to be pleased with the young man’s efforts as a painter. Luis returned to Spain late in 1753 to assist his father on the illumination of a new set of royal choir-books, which are judged to be among the best examples of Ferdinand VI’s patronage. As a result, he made the first of four unsuccessful petitions for Court preferment. It was difficult to find work as a painter in Madrid without official commissions; Luis would have had to rely on private clients to make a living, and he may have turned to still-lifes because such works were relatively easy to sell. He had, in fact, already used whimsical still-life details for some of the illuminated capital letters of the choir-books of 1753-58. His first known Still-Life dates to 1759, and already shows the fundamental characteristics of his mature style.

Meléndez’s situation changed dramatically early in 1771 when he was received by the Prince of the Asturias [the future Charles IV] and his wife Maria Luisa of Parma.   The Prince commissioned an extensive series of still-lifes to decorate his cabinet of natural history1.  By January of the following year, the artist had delivered most of the pictures – forty-four in all – for this cycle that qualifies him as one of the greatest of the eighteenth-century painters in this genre.  Meléndez had hoped to receive a pension, but his proud nature again frustrated any plans for a secure future.  In 1776, he quarrelled with Court officials over money, and the commission was terminated despite the “high opinion which Meléndez has of his own merit and his work”.2

This seemingly unassuming Still-life of dessert comestibles has been judged to be among Meléndez’s most attractive works3.  The studied artlessness of the composition is, in fact, belied by the sophistication of its spatial organisation where a subtle displacement of solids and voids impart a series of opposing vertical thrusts within the closely cropped, horizontal picture-plane that is characteristic of Meléndez.  Doctor Peter Cherry compares this compositional method to that employed by Juan van der Hamen (1596-1631) on his dessert Still-Lifes, such as the one in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Granada4.  Eleanor Tufts dates the present work to 1770-71, that is just before the artist’s meeting with the Prince and Princess of the Asturias5.

In a similar way to his contemporaries Jean-Baptiste Chardin in France and Carlo Magini in Italy, Luis Meléndez used simple foods and homely objects in his paintings because, like them, he was interested in the abstract, geometrical possibilities of still-life composition rather than in the magniloquent displays of  the Late Baroque or Rococo fantasy.  Therefore, the same comestibles and artefacts reappear in more than one of the artist’s crowded, complex canvases.  The tilted, wooden jelly boxes are a recurring motif in his work, and the sweet rolls are found in a more elaborate Dessert Still-Life in a private collection6.  The shorter honey pot with the green glaze around the neck in the present picture also features in the Still-Life with Limes, Jelly Box,  Butterfly and Kitchen Utensils in The Prado7, while the taller, slender one with blue flower-like markings from Manises in Valencia is of a type often repeated in Meléndez’s work, although with different colours and decoration8.  An unusual feature of this Dessert Still-Life is that it is painted on a reused canvas, having been originally intended to serve as a support for a double portrait of Ferdinand IVand his Queen, Barbara of Braganza.  Meléndez turned the canvas upside down and painted the present picture, just as he did with the Still-Life with Oranges, Walnuts and Boxes of Sweetmeats in The National Gallery, London, which has an unfinished portrait of Charles IIIunderneath it9.

Because the present Dessert Still-Life  belonged to the Infante Don Sebastían Gabriel Borbón y Braganza (1811-1875) as early as 1835 when it is listed in an inventory of his paintings, it has been suggested that he may have been inherited it from his great-uncle Charles IVand, therefore, that it could possibly be one of the “four or five” canvases by Meléndez that the then Prince of the Asturias owned prior to commissioning the others10.  The Infante Don Sebastían Gabriel was an enthusiastic collector who added to the paintings, which he had inherited, by marriage and acquisition.  Although his preferences were for classic Spanish paintings of the Golden Age, he owned works by Goya and other still-lifes by Meléndez, as well as the latter’s celebrated Self Portrait in The Louvre.  He was also a painter in his own right and championed young Spanish artists.  In 1837, the Infante’s possessions were confiscated for political reasons, and his paintings exhibited in public.  His collection was returned to him shortly before his death.  What, like the present picture, was not sold in the auctions of 1876, 1890 and 1902 remained with his descendants in Madrid.


1. Meléndez’s still-lifes never actually hung in the Prince of Asturias’s Natural History Cabinet in the Royal Palace.  Instead, they were displayed in the Casita del Príncipe, his country retreat near the Escorial, before being moved to the Palace of Aranjuez at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.  The series is now distributed between The Prado and other Spanish museums.

2. This 1778 judgement by Court officials is quoted by P. Cherry, “Luis Meléndez and the fruits of a frustrated career”, in Luis Meléndez.Still Lifes, exhibition catalogue [Dublin] with J.J. Luna, Dublin, 2004, p. 22.

3. P. Cherry, in Luis Meléndez.Bodegones, exhibition catalogue [Madrid] with J.J. Luna and N. Seseña, Madrid, 2004, p. 196, cat. no. 21.

4. idem., fig. 97.

5. cf., Literature.

6. Illustrated in P. Cherry et alLuis Meléndez.Bodegones, cat. no. 22.

7. ibid., cat. no. 19.

8. ibid., cat. nos. 4, 5 and 6.

9. Discussed and illustrated by P. Cherry, in “Luis Meléndez and the fruits of a frustrated career”, pp. 24-25, fig. 8.

7-8 Mason's Yard, Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6BU – – Tel. +44 20 7930 5347

We use cookies to improve our website and your experience when using it. Cookies used for the essential operation of the site have already been set. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our Privacy Policy.

I accept cookies from this site