Maestro della tela Jeans - Donna che cuce e due bambini
Maestro della tela Jeans
(attivo nell’Italia settentrionale, fine XVII secolo)
Donna che cuce e due bambini / Mother Sewing with Two Children
oil on canvas, cm. 102 x 193
Milano, Collezione d’arte della Fondazione Cariplo
This painting was bequeathed to the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde by Caterina Marcenaro in 1976, when it was attributed to Johannes Vermeer (R. Colace 1998, p. 226). In the entry in the book on the works in the Fondazione Cariplo collection, Raffaella Colace instead supported Federico Zeri’s suggestion that it was a work by the 17th-century French school, putting the works of the Le Nain brothers forward as the “most immediate reference”, “particularly Louis, author of unforgettable austere and solemn family interiors”. The Le Nain brothers became known as the first “painters of reality”. This definition, which enjoyed great fortune in the 20th-century, enables us to critically examine a figurative season of undefined chronological and geographic limits, which spread a passion for realistic portrayals of life, without concessions to style and manner, throughout Europe between the 17th century and the start of the following century. The author of the Woman Sewing and Two Children, recognized for the first time by Francesco Frangi (2000), also belonged to this current. Although this artist is still anonymous and we have no biographical information about him, he has been nicknamed the Master of the Blue Jeans due to a particular recurring feature in his works: the presence of a blue fabric with white threads in the weft, in which we can recognize the structure of denim, said to originate “from Genoa”. The complex style of this artist makes it difficult to understand the context in which he trained, although lots of pointers lead us to believe that he spent part of his career in Lombardy, towards the end of the 17th century. In fact, the particular nature of his portrayals of paupers seems to pave the way for the work of Giacomo Ceruti, the undisputed master of Lombard reality painting in the first half of the 18th century. However, the brutality with which the misery and destitution of the less affluent classes are portrayed in the canvases by the anonymous master, without anecdotal or allegorical concessions, even exceeds the tones of Ceruti’s paintings. The figures almost always emerge from a dark, deliberately empty background, to be presented powerfully in the foreground to the inclement gaze of the painter, who scrutinizes every aspect of their poverty: the rips and holes in the ragged clothes, their deformities, and the children’s faces with grown-up eyes, proud in their daily frustration. The Mother Sewing and Two Children fits in well here, with the three figures arranged on different levels, responding to the sentimental requirements of the image, rather than for purposes of spatial definition. The torn denim fabric that covers the woman’s legs is almost a signature of the artist, who excels in the tactile representation of objects, from the different types of fabrics to the pitcher and the copper spoon glistening in the majolica dish at the foot of the rough cradle. Another version of the painting, which differs only in a few small details, is conserved in the Galerie Canesso in Paris.