Museo del Prado, Madrid

Museo Nacional del Prado | Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23
28014 Madrid

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The paintings of Meléndez introduce us to the everyday life of the middle-classes in 18th-century Madrid. The magnificent still lifes on display in the exhibition provide us with information on eating habits and the kitchen implements and vessels used in kitchens of the day.

Among the most important foodstuffs were meat, game and above all fatty bacon, and every good stew had to include the latter. Fish was also much appreciated, either fresh or dried, despite the fact that it had a complex journey to reach the inland capital of Madrid, and was thus a sign of social prestige, and fresh fish was much more expensive than dried. Spices, bread (reputedly delicious in Madrid), fruit and vegetables as well as desserts are all amply represented in the artist's oeuvre. With regard to drink, there was nothing better for quenching thirst than fresh or flavoured water, as well as other non-alcoholic drinks such as lemonade or horchata. Also important was wine, and those produced in Valdemoro were famous at this period.

Looking at the implements and vessels, Meléndez included examples of traditional pottery that could be heated over the fire or used to hold liquids, and his paintings feature a wide variety of stewing pots, dishes and pitchers of various types. Almost all of these were made in Alcorcón, the leading ceramic manufacturing centre of the period. We also see Talavera ware in the classic round-bodied jug, as well as pieces from Manises with their characteristic metallic glaze. The artist also enjoyed painting copper objects, including a fine chocolate pot, referring to one of the most popular drinks of the day. The way that it was drink in Spain, with the chocolate so thick, astonished visitors to the country.

There is still more to be seen, however, and Meléndez includes glass objects, wood, wicker and objects made in the Viceroyalty of New Spain such as ceramic ware from Tonalá, Guadalajara (Mexico).

The Still Life
Luis Melendez
Kuratoren: Peter Cherry, Juan J. Luna