In order to do this, Di Matteo set in motion a curious collective process. He invited five members of the Cooperative of Commercial Neapolitan Painters, accustomed to painting stereotypical subjects such as seascapes, flowering terraces, or floral still lifes in quantity, to accompany him to the Prado. There the painters spent three days studying Velázquez’s masterpiece, developing a specific method for creating the twenty requested copies in twenty days. A principal desideratum of commercial painting being speed of execution, upon their return to Naples, the five painters worked to produce one complete set of the sixteen modules each day, using as their point of departure a reproduction available at the museum.
Each painter concentrated exclusively on one part of the composition—the central figures, the backgrounds, and so on. The twenty resulting copies broadly resemble the original but are not exactly faithful copies of it, since one hand’s pictorial gesture will always differ from another’s. All the same yet all different, these nonetheless impressive Meninas present the problem of authorship that stems from the overturning of the distinctive individual gesture; they seem to be a parody of authorship, its almost farcical reversal. In fact the style here is careless, anonymous, realized without particular attention and without “cultured” intentions.
Moreover, the pieces that were not visible (those stacked up against the wall) underscored the economic, salable aspect of commercial painting, or simply of painting, if one thinks of the fate of many dismembered canvases of the past, restored to integrity, if at all, only by the philological rigor of our present-day art-historical approach. This loss of pathos, of aura, may be counterbalanced by the liberal use the purchaser could make of Di Matteo’s work, beginning with the painting’s commercial dimension: One can buy a few modules suitable for freely reconstructing the scene, or just one, as a souvenir. Commercial, indeed.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Federico Luger (via Ventura)
via Ventura, 5 - Milano