Bon appétit!

By GREG COOK  |  February 9, 2010

Meléndez finally caught a royal eye during the decade represented in the show. In 1768, he was hired by Charles III's son Charles, Prince of Asturias, to paint a miniature of the Holy Family. No additional commissions followed directly. But in 1771, Prince Charles's wife, María Luisa, hired Meléndez to paint still lifes for the prince's New Cabinet of Natural History. The series, which ran to 44 paintings (those royal commissions just kept giving and giving), was intended to be a scientific catalogue of Spain's fruits, meats, birds, fish, foods, and flowers.

As part of this commission, Meléndez produced a selection of still lifes set in landscapes — perhaps at the prince's request. One shows apples and a split, dripping watermelon. Still Life with Pomegranates, Apples, Azaroles, and Grapes in a Landscape (1771) depicts pomegranates in three stages of ripeness. The very idea of the compositions is deliciously bizarre: a bounty spilled across dark hillsides under roiling clouds. Meléndez's dark, interior still lifes are probably better paintings — but they're also more reserved. Here everything spills out, as the red pomegranate seeds burst from their green skins. It's wonderfully dewy and lusty and violent and screwy and ecstatic. Oh, what a meal.

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