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He was born in 1560 in the town of Orgaz, near Toledo, Spain. Cotán began by painting altarpieces and religious works. For approximately twenty years, he pursued a successful career in Toledo as an artist, patronized by the city’s aristocracy, painting religious scenes, portraits and still lifes. These paintings found a receptive audience among the educated intellectuals of Toledo society. He executed his notable still lifes around the beginning of the seventeenth century, before the end of his secular life. An example (below) is Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (painted in 1602, and now in the San Diego Museum of Art).
On August 10, 1603, Sánchez Cotán , then in his forties, closed up his workshop at Toledo to renounce the world and enter the Carthusian monastery Santa Maria de El Paular. He continued his career painting religious works with singular mysticism. In 1612 he was sent to the Granada Charterhouse, he decided to become a monk, and in the following year he entered the Carthusian monastery at Granada as a laybrother.
His style and the aspect I particularly like…
Sánchez Cotán established the prototype of the Spanish still life, called a bodegón, composed mainly of vegetables. Characteristically, he depicted a few simple fruits or vegetables, some of which hang from a fine string at different levels while others sit on a ledge or window. The forms stand out with an almost geometric clarity against a dark background. This orchestration of still life in direct sunlight against impenetrable darkness is the hallmark of early Spanish still life painting. Each form is scrutinized with such intensity that the pictures take on a mystical quality, and the reality of things is intensified to a degree that no other seventeenth-century painter would surpass.
He depicted few artifacts, other than the strings from which vegetables and fruits dangle, this being the common means in the seventeenth century of preventing food and vegetables from rotting. Even if the objects are arranged so that they seem close enough to touch, they are nevertheless distanced. For all the realism with which they are depicted, the isolation of each object, heightened further by the black background, lends them a monumental, almost sculptural gravity.
Juan Sánchez Cotán ended his days universally loved and regarded as a saint. He died in 1627 in Granada.