RARE LATE 16TH- / EARLY-17TH-CENTURY ITALIAN ENGRAVINGS OF PIETER BRUEGEL I’S ALLEGORICAL IMAGES OF
‘THE POOR KITCHEN’ AND ‘THE RICH KITCHEN’



BRUEGEL, Pieter, I (artist) and Annibale ORATA (publisher). ‘The Poor Kitchen’. Mantua: Annibale Orata, [circa1600]. Engraved print on watermarked laid paper after BRUEGEL with imprint ‘Annib. Oratà Formis Mantuà’ within the image and text of 8-line poem engraved in 2 columns below the image (platemark: 207 x 150mm; sheet: 220 x 164mm). (Lightly marked, some skilful restoration at margins, skilfully-repaired tear on lower part.) [With:]

P. BRUEGEL I (artist) and A. ORATA (publisher). ‘The Rich Kitchen’. Mantua: Annibale Orata, [circa 1600]. Engraved print on watermarked laid paper after Bruegel with imprint ‘Annib. Oratà For. Mantuà’ within the image and text of 8-line poem engraved in 2 columns below the image (platemark: 207 x 149mm; sheet: 219 x 164mm). (Lightly marked, some skilful restoration at margins.)

Both engravings in a modern common mount. Provenance: ‘Annibale Orata(?) La Cuisine Maigre, La Cuisine Grasse. Unrecorded. Engravings after P. Bruegel the elder’ (modern pencilled inscription on mount) – Stephen John Keynes OBE, FLS (1927-2017).



The Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel I (b. c. 1525-1530, d. 1569) is believed to have painted his allegorical images of ‘The Poor Kitchen’ and ‘The Rich Kitchen’ in circa 1563, but the original paintings do not survive and are only known through contemporary prints of the images. The earliest of these engravings were dated 1563 and executed by the Flemish engraver Pieter van der Heyden, who dedicated himself nearly exclusively to engraving works by Bruegel from 1556 until his death in the 1570s. ‘The Poor Kitchen’ depicts a group of emaciated men at a table in a kitchen reaching into a large bowl of mussels, while around them one gaunt figure tends a pot and another tenderises a fish. In the foreground, an emaciated woman feeds an infant by hand from a sucking-horn, a small child holds a pot upside down over its head to search for remains of food, and a skeletal dog eats scraps, while in the background a portly man attempts to escape through the door while two gaunt men try to detain him. In the pendant, ‘The Rich Kitchen’, the same dramatis personaeare shown in a gluttonous inversion of the same scene: a group of corpulent men feast at a well-provisioned table while a cook attends to three pots and a spit cooking over an open fire, a plump woman breast-feeds an infant, two chubby children eat from a large pan, and an overweight dog eats bread. In the background an emaciated bagpiper is chased from the kitchen by two fat men.



Bruegel’s set of contrasting images of poor and rich kitchens enjoyed great popularity, and also document the kitchens, the cooking techniques and technologies, the dietary customs, and the foods associated with different social classes in the early modern period (for example, the mechanical ratchets used for raising or lowering pots over a fire, or the distinction between the infant being fed from a sucking-horn or being breast-fed). The depictions of the two kitchens were reproduced during the following decades by engravers across Europe, sometimes using re-drawings of Bruegel’s compositions by other artists (for example, Johann Theodor de Bry’s reversed copies of the two engravings were published at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1596; for a selection of sixteenth-century engravings of the scenes, see K. Andringa, ‘“Les Gras et les Maigres”; Camille Lemonnier, Pieter Bruegel et la cuisine sociale’, Études Germaniques, vol. 72 (2017), pp. 203-219 at p. 206). The present pair of engravings were published by the Italian artist and engraver Annibale Orata, who was active in Mantua in the last decade of the sixteenth century and the first decades of the seventeenth century, but of whom little else is known. Orata’s engravings appear to be close copies of van der Heyden’s, retaining the orientation of the originals and matching the compositions in all major details, but Orata has reduced the dimensions and changed the images from a landscape format to a portrait format. Orata has also added new texts beneath them, which were apparently composed for these engravings and cannot be traced on examples by other printmakers; while each of van der Heyden’s engravings has a distich beneath it (in French on the left and Dutch on the right), both of Orata’s engravings have Italian verses in ottava rima beneath them. 

Although engravings of Bruegel’s celebrated images by van der Heyden and others do appear on the market periodically,Orata’s engravings of the poor and rich kitchens are extremely rare, and we cannot trace other examples in commerce in recent years (similarly, we cannot trace them in many of the standard sources, although these engravings are not, as the inscription on the mount states, unrecorded; the earliest reference to them we can trace is in Ludwig Bechstein’s ‘Annibal Orata, ein noch unbekannter italienscher Stecher’, Deutsches Kunstblatt, vol. 8 (1857), pp. 446-447). These examples are from the collection of the noted bibliophile Stephen Keynes, the son of the bibliographer and Blake scholar Sir Geoffrey Keynes, and a member of the Roxburghe Club. Stephen Keynes assembled extensive collections which were particularly rich in printed books, illuminated manuscripts, and prints, and he also served as the Chairman of the Trustees of the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1979-1996) and the Chairman of the William Blake Trust (1981-2014).

£2,750 

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