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Fruit Catalogs, c.1700

Fruit Catalogs, c.1700

The paintings of Bartolomeo Bimbi, C.1700.

I'm crazy about the paintings of Bartolomeo Bimbi. Born in 1648, outside Florence in Settignano, he apprenticed with artists in Florence and Rome, then returned home to work in a studio that turned out flower paintings. The ruling Medici, Cosimo III, hired Bimbi to work for his family - decorating carriages, copying, restoring, and "correcting" paintings, and making scenery for theatrical presentations.

Cosimo was also interested in pomology, the science of fruit cultivation. Ships docking in Livorno brought him newly discovered plants and exotics, like pineapple. He would send examples of strange imports and the results of his own pomological efforts to Bimbi for documentation. My favorite is a huge lemon on a silver tray. A ribbon floating near the top of the painting reads "SPONGINO DI LIBBRE 4, ONCE 7." I definitely agree that a 4 pound, 7 ounce lemon deserves a portrait for posterity.

The fruit paintings of Bimbi are studies in monomania. Many focus on one kind of fruit, which is displayed on platters or in baskets. Next to each variety is a number, and there's a key, usually on a scroll at the bottom of the painting, with all their names. For instance, his citrus paintings show (before a background trellis covered with leaves and citrus flowers) at least two examples of orange, lemon, lime, and lumia (a cross between a lemon and a citron, which has a sweet-lemonade flavor). In other paintings apricots and peaches spill off a tray next to a basket half-filled with more; a huge basket of cherry clusters (yellow, red, and deep, dark wine-colored) is displayed in a garden next to a fountain; pears are divided into June, July, August, September, October, and Winter specimens, each with its own silver platter.

Poggio a Caiano, a villa designed by architect Giulano da Sangallo for Lorenzo de' Medici, has a permanent display of Bimbi's paintings. This well-preserved retreat is a wonder in itself, with glazed terra-cotta frieze, impressive curved staircase, and Pontormo fresco. I love its Medici entertainment center - a small theater next to a billiard room lined with trompe l'oeil garden trellises. Poggio a Caiano, standing amid English-style gardens eleven miles west of Florence's center, is easy to reach by public transportation or car and well worth the voyage.

Villa Medicea di Poggio a Caiano, piazza dei Medici 12, Poggio a Caiano, tel. 39-055-877012.

Open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., on the half hour.
Closed the second and third Monday of each month.

-July 14, 1998


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