Tomás Hiepes occupied a key place within the rich culture of still life painting that evolved in Spain throughout the 17th century. Based in Valencia, he developed an idiosyncratic style in the mid-1600s that distinguished his work from that of his contemporaries who specialized in the genre in Madrid, Toledo and Seville. In recent decades, he has received considerable critical attention; while it has been established that Hiepes achieved significant fame in his lifetime, information about his life and artistic patrons remains somewhat fragmentary. Biographical details have been gleaned from various archival sources, and he is recorded as a student in the School of Painters in Valencia on 16 October 1616. Documents relating to legal proceedings involving the artist and his family indicate that he had established a reputation as a still life painter by 1632, even though his first known dated work is from a decade later.
Hiepes's work as a painter of historical and religious subjects is largely unknown; but his development and range as a still life artist has been more amply documented. His oeuvre not only includes fruteros, but also depictions of game birds, landscapes, kitchen interiors, and vanitas still lifes. His technique demonstrates both the northern and Italian influences that were keenly felt in Valencia from the 15th century onwards. Flemish techniques were followed in the city in the mid- to late-1400s, and a strong link was later forged between Valencia and Naples, with numerous artists, including Jusepe de Ribera and Juan Do, moving to the Italian city, then under Spanish rule. Hiepes's work shows a northern exactitude in its precise depiction of objects, flowers and fruit. Indeed, this was noted in the well-known description of his paintings written by Marcos Antonio de Orellana in the 18th century: His flowers are subtle, translucent and light, his fruits very natural and everything done with admirable perfection. The limpid and translucent grapes with the vine leaves could deceive the birds, like those other celebrated grapes by Zeuxis (X. de Salas, ed., Biografa Pictórica Valentina o Vida de los Pintores, Arquitectos, Escultores y Grabadores Valencianos, Madrid, 1930, p. 218).
The fruit in the present composition appears enticing, and the tendrils seem to wind their way haphazardly from the vine. The markedly symmetrical, stylized arrangement of the fruit in the bowl, which echoes the style of Blas de Ledesma, is quite typical of the arrangements found in many of the artist's works, and distinct from those of his contemporaries working in Madrid. The pattern on the bowl on the stone ledge may derive from ceramics from Manises, which feature regularly in Hiepes's work.
The present composition belongs to a group of pictures by the artist in which still-life elements are incorporated into the landscapes -- some of which also include animals, reminiscent of the work of d'Hondecoeter, and some of which depict figures. The abundant still-life elements here serve to frame a composition beyond, showing Andromeda chained to a rock as Perseus races to slay the dragon below. It was not unusual for Hiepes to include smaller compositions within his still lifes; he frequently depicted classical landscapes, for example, on vases containing flowers. Yet the prominence of the mythological tale would here appear to be an innovation in his work, providing an animated juxtaposition to the still life: the drama and movement of the scene unfolding in the background, with the windswept sea and open-mouthed dragon, clearly contrasts with the idyllic calm of the fruit, flowers and rabbits.
PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN FAMILY
Fernandez de la Campa family, 17th century.
Private collection, Spain, and by descent for six generations.