Giuseppe Recco was the beneficiary of the first generation of still-life painters in Naples—Luca Forte (ca. 1615–before 1670), Paolo Porpora (1617–1673), and Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo (1629–1693). Bernardo De Dominici, our primary but not always reliable source for the biographies of Neapolitan painters, emphasized Giuseppe’s mastery of the whole range of still-life painting, praising him as a “most singular painter of flowers, fruit, sweets, fish, game, vegetables, and other things.” But he especially praised his paintings of fish and sea creatures, noting how he surpassed others in “observing each thing from life” and further remarking that he became “an excellent, even incomparable painter.” The scholar Raffaello Causa wrote, “never once does Recco yield; always composed, uncompromising, refined, abstract according to his own rule—one that is not in step with the times.” Indeed, only in his late work does he create the kind of elaborate, open-air scenes with luxurious goods that were so popular in noble households north and south of the Alps (for example, his Still Life with Crystals and an Enslaved African Servant
in the Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli, Seville, of 1679). In his large kitchen scenes and elaborate buffets he sometimes collaborated with Luca Giordano.
Giuseppe’s work brings to a climax the defining features of Neapolitan still-life painting in which objects are shown sharply lit in a dark interior or against a dark background, thereby enhancing their physicality and dramatizing their presentation. This was directly related to the legacy of Caravaggio’s two sojourns in Naples (1606–7 and 1609–10). Paradoxically, by that date, Caravaggio no longer painted independent still lifes, though late paintings such as the Adoration of the Shepherds
(Museo Nazionale, Messina; fig. 1) and the still controversial Tooth Puller
(Galleria Palatina, Florence; fig. 2) contain still-life details that demonstrate the ways in which his art was influential. It is only initially curious that the realization of this style took place in the 1630s rather than earlier. A major impetus was doubtlessly provided by the arrival in the city in 1616 of Jusepe de Ribera, whose paintings contain brilliantly realized still-life details. Though undocumented, he may also have painted independent still lifes, just as he is known to have painted two independent landscapes (Alba Collection, Madrid). The most significant example, dating from the 1650s, is a still life with the head of a goat (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples; fig. 3). Aniello Falcone (1607–1656), who had initially worked with Ribera, may also have played a role: in his painting of a concert (Museo del Prado, Madrid) one of the figures carries on his head an enormous vase of fruit and flowers, suggesting either his activity in this area or his collaboration with specialists in still-life painting. Another factor informing still-life painting in Naples were the Flemish still lifes available through the activities of foreign residents, such as Jan Van den Eynde, or Vandeneynden (1584–1630) and his son Ferdinand, and the Antwerp merchant/banker and collector extraordinaire, Gaspar Roomer (1596/1606–1674), who sent Neapolitan pictures north and imported Dutch and Flemish paintings to Naples—most famously Rubens’s Feast of Herod
(Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh). Also present in the city were northern painters, such as Abraham Brueghel (see 71.118
Giuseppe Recco was born into a family of painters. His father, Giacomo (1603–1654), was among the founders of still-life painting in Naples in the 1630s, known especially for his paintings of flowers in fantastical vases, emulated by his young son. Among Giacomo’s pupils was the brilliant still-life painter Paolo Porpora, whose work was important for Giuseppe. His probable uncle, Giovanni Battista Recco (ca. 1615–ca. 1660), excelled at paintings with fish, crabs, and other marine life, and these provided both the model as well as catalyst for Giuseppe’s pictures, such as the one in The Met. It is above all these paintings that De Dominici praises and that earned Giuseppe the reputation as the outstanding master of still lives in Naples. His success may be measured by the illustrious collectors and patrons who owned his work. He is recorded as “painter to the Marchese de los Vélez, viceroy of Naples from 1675 to 1682, and his paintings figure in the inventories of such prestigious collections as that of Gaspar Méndez de Haro, marchese del Carpio. De Dominici says he was invited to Spain to paint for Charles II. According to De Dominici, the artist, who by then had been knighted, set out for Spain in 1695, and following a difficult voyage, he died shortly after landing in Alicante. He is reported to have had twelve children, one of whom, a daughter, Elena, became a painter. So also did Nicola Massa (not Maria, as mistakenly reported) Recco, who we now know was the nephew and not the son of Giuseppe Recco: he was, instead, the son of Antonio Massa and Marzia Recco, Giuseppe’s sister.
Our ideas about Giuseppe and his art have evolved significantly over the last quarter century. According to De Dominici, he spent an extended period in Lombardy, profiting from the example of still-life painters there. This turns out to not to have been true: his formation was entirely Neapolitan, but he was surely aware of northern and particularly Flemish painting from the collections in the city.The Picture:
An assortment of fish (among which is a red gurnard and a branzino), a cuttlefish and an octopus are displayed on a two-tiered, rocky ledge together with two large copper vessels and a basket that has been overturned by a cat that has snagged the octopus with its claws and chews on a tentacle while confronting the viewer with a defiant stare. Recco has signed the work with his initials twice: once in the lower left and then again with the seaweed. The presence and action of the cat give the picture a narrative element that enlivens the normally static quality inherent in still-life painting and that also elevates its ambition, since still life alone was thought secondary to history and figurative painting. In other pictures—among which the opulent Riches of the Sea with Neptune, Tritons and Two Nereids (New South Wales Art Gallery, Australia) or Still Life with a Fisherman (commissioned by Giacomo Paravagna, marchese di Noja and now in a private collection, Naples)—Luca Giordano provided the figures, thereby enhanced and elevating the still life with an allegorical, mythological, or narrative theme. There is general agreement that The Met’s picture dates from the 1660s and reflects Giuseppe’s response to the paintings of his uncle, Giovanni Battista, who was celebrated for his marine still lifes and is reported to have died in 1660 (this is according to a note sent to Filippo Baldinucci on 9 July 1675, but the exact date of his death is not certain). It is thus of interest that in the 1688 inventory of the collection of Ferdinand Vandeneynden in Naples is listed a painting by Giovanni Battista Recco described as: “kitchen utensils and things from the pantry with a cat that tugs as the neck of a heron”. Given the nature of Vandeneynden’s collection, partly inherited from Roomer, there is naturally the question of whether Giovanni Battista and Giuseppe were responding to Flemish paintings in those collections.
Keith Christiansen 2020
 Bernardo De Dominici, Vite de' pittori, scultori, ed architetti Napoletani
III, 1742, p. 95: “pittore singolarissimo di fiori, frutti, cose dolci, pesci, cacciagione, verdume, ed altro.” De Dominici treats the key figures of Neapolitan still-life painting in his biography of Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo (pp. 293–301).
 Raffaello Causa, La pittura del seicento a Napoli dal naturalismo al barocco: La natura morta a Napoli nel sei e settecento
(reprint from Storia di Napoli
), Naples, 1972, p. 1021, cited in Ritorno al barocco da Caravaggio a Vanvitelli
, exh. cat., Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, 2009, p. 400, no. 1.2333.
 The attribution of this picture to Ribera was first proposed in Ritorno al barocco da Caravaggio a Vanvitelli
, cited above in note 2, p. 380, no. 1.222.
 For general survey of the importance of Roomer, see Francis Haskell, Patrons and Painters
, London, 1980, 3rd ed. 1991, pp. 205–8, and R. Ruotolo, Ricerche sul '600 Napoletano: Mercanti, collezionisti fiamminghi a Napoli
, Naples, 1982. Vandeneynden’s inventory, drawn up on December 2, 1688, is accessible on the Getty Provenance Index. Among the paintings listed are seven still lifes by Jan Fyt and nine by Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo, indicating his interest in both Flemish and Neapolitan still lifes.
 See Gianluca Forgione, Nuovi contributi sulla natura morta napoletana: Nicola Massa Recco e altre questioni
 For a survey of Giuseppe’s life based on archival and other sources, see the entry of Gianluca Forgione in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani
, vol. 86, 2016, available online: http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/giuseppe-recco_%28Dizionario-Biografico%29/
 See the Getty Provenance Index, as above in note 4, under no. 131: “Un altro di pal. 10 e 8 con cornice liscia robbe di cucine, e robbe di dispenza con una gatta che tira il collo ad un arione mano di Titta Recco 60”