11260 AN EXTREMELY RARE TILE PICTURE DEPICTING LIVERIED SERVANTS IN A KITCHEN SETTING, ATTRIBUTED TO VICENTE NAVARRO Valencia. Circa 1770. Measurements: Height: 77 1/2″ (approx. 197 cm) Width: 103″ (approx. 262 cm).
Composed of 108 polychrome glazed tiles. The scene depicting two liveried servants dressed in blue and brown carrying platters laden with a piglet and a duck. On a plain table covered in a white cloth rests a further platter stacked with pies. The walls are adorned with a straw basket, a fringed cloth which hangs from a rail, a pair of rabbits hung from a hook, and a pendant of garlic hung from a hook. In the foreground is a large dog and a cat eating a fish. The scene is decorated on three sides with meandering flowers and foliage. There are eleven replacement tiles in all, mainly confined to the right hand border. Some tiles with old restoration.
Private Collection, Spain.
Señor Bentley Angliss, Madrid, Spain.
Originally the province of brickmakers, the production of painted tiles in Valencia has continued in one form or another since the Middle Ages. The first known Valencian factory devoted solely to tilemaking opened in 1568. Earlier that century, artisans arriving from Castille had revolutionized the Spanish tilemaking industry by introducing full polychromy, which in turn inspired new subject matter and more elaborate compositions. The resulting increase in demand led several Valencian craftsmen to open tile factories, which at first were small, cramped workshops with a single kiln and a limited yield. However, by the middle of the eighteenth-century, at the height of the Spanish Rococo period, the city’s tile factories had become the foremost in Spain, and were receiving commissions ranging from kitchen panels in the homes of the wealthy nobility to interior decorations in the Royal Palace in Madrid.1
By the mid-1700s, the most important tile factory in Valencia was that of Vicente Navarro, located on Calle de la Corona. Navarro is named in a mural in the convent of Santo Domingo de Orihuela in the town of Vernos that depicts the history of the tile industry in the 1700s. In one scene, which shows bundles of merchandise marked with their makers’ names, one bundle reads: “Luís Domingo drew it…Vicente Navarro made it.” Luís Domingo was one of the painters of the Academia, and his name being here linked with Navarro’s indicates that Navarro may have collaborated with some of the most highly respected Baroque artists.2
One of the best-preserved examples of Rococo kitchen tile paintings attributed to Navarro can be found in the Casa del Marqués de Benicarló, in Benicarló, Spain (figure 1). The exterior walls of the house, built in 1776 for the rich merchant Joaquín Miquel, were once covered with Rococo frescoes; and elaborately designed tile paintings were installed throughout the building. The richest tile paintings were saved for the more private areas of the house, and the grand kitchen became home to the most impressive of all, the opulent decoration befitting the lady of the house who would oversee its operation.
The scenes in the grand kitchen of the Marques of Benicarló are so remarkably similar to the present piece as to allow a confident attribution to the Navarro workshop: especially one scene, located to the right of the kitchen entrance, in which two male servants carry trays of food toward the door. The men, just like the two shown in the present piece, are dressed to the height of contemporary fashion, which strictly followed the French fashion during the first Regency of Louis XVI (1774-1779). In both of the paintings, the men wear gold-trimmed coats (one figure clad in brown, and the other in light blue, in each painting); green waistcoats with golden buttons, the pocket flaps unbuttoned; frilled neckerchiefs; and white wigs with curled sides. The men stand in three-quarter or profile stances, holding trays with expensive food (roast duck and piglet in the present piece; cups of chocolate and desserts in the Marques’s kitchen) ready to be carried out to the dining room.
Another fine example of Rococo kitchen tile paintings, also attributed to Vicente Navarro and dated circa 1775,3 is currently in the National Tile Museum in Lisbon (figure 2). Here again, two fashionably-dressed figures (this time, one is female) carry platters with delicacies: the man with cups of chocolate that are virtually identical to the ones shown in the Marques’s kitchen; and the woman with bars of nougat, a local Christmas tradition. The man is shown in a variation of the same three-quarter pose that appeared in the other two pieces; the only marked difference in his appearance is the color scheme of his clothing. This dissimilarity is probably attributable to the changes in fashion over time: the piece in Lisbon is dated slightly earlier than the other two.
As the longstanding center of silk production in southern Spain,4 Valencia was uniquely situated to have the first glimpse of the latest fashions. By previewing the newest products to come out of the Valencian textile factories, Navarro and his colleagues would have been able to provide their clients with up-to-the-moment renderings of the latest vogue in color combinations and patterning. As real fashions changed, the styles shown in the Navarro tile paintings would have been adjusted correspondingly.
Apart from the depiction of the servants, there are a number of conventions that are visible in each of the three pieces: the depiction of space, for example, remains quite consistent. In each of the paintings, the figures, furniture, and household animals are all confined to a narrow strip less than two meters deep, and therefore certain liberties are taken with regards to perspective; tables are tilted, furniture and people are shown taking up the same spaces like the cook at a small table in the Marques of Benicarló’s kitchen (figure 3). For this reason, the floors in each of the paintings are not shown as the rows of burnished wooden boards that would be in any real Spanish kitchen of the time; they are simplified as mounds of green turf, which give more lenience in representing perspective. Meanwhile, the white, unpainted tiles in each picture provide a backdrop for the painted scene. They are meant to represent nothing more than a wall of white tiles lining a typical unpainted kitchen, which is why hooks with towels, dried vegetables, butchered animals and the distinctive woven baskets centering each scene are all shown suspended, just as they would on an actual kitchen wall.5 Several of the tile pictures are also framed with vines of fruit and flowers, as seen the present piece.
Household animals also make an appearance in both the Marques’s kitchen painting and the present piece: in the Marques’s kitchen, a very round cat covered in brown hatching for fur markings, and with a very strange face nibbles raw meat from its perch on top of a corner table, while a black and white mottled dog steals a line of sausages from below (figure 4). In the present piece a very similar-looking cat is shown eating a fish at the foot of the table, while a brown-and-white dog stares longingly at the plate of duck. These pairings of symbolic “enemies” add some humor and activity to the scenes.
- Consell General del Concorci de Museus de la Comunitat Valenciana. Azulejería en Valencia: de la Edad Media a Principios del Siglo XX [Tile Design in Valencia: From the Middle Ages Through the Early 20th Century]. 2007. p. 79.
- Id. pp. 85, 88.
- Consell General del Concorci de Museus de la Comunitat Valenciana. Azulejería en Valencia… p. 224.
- Ringose, David. Spain, Europe, and the ‘Spanish miracle’, 1700-1900. p. 46
- Guillén, Inocênio V. Pérez. “La Ceramica Arquitectónica del Rococó Hispano: Azulejerías del Palácio del Marqués en Benicarló”. pp. 52-54.