CARRACCI, Annibale
(b. 1560, Bologna, d. 1609, Roma)

Butcher's Shop

Oil on canvas, 185 x 266 cm
Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford

Using the language of the Bible, theologians have referred to the dangers of the consumer habits which emanate from such abundant supply of products as 'temptations of the flesh,' and these are quite often the theme of rather graphic paintings of butchers' shops. Like Aertsen and Beuckelaer's art, in the 16th century they are not yet pure still-lifes, although they do display the tendency towards materialization inherent in this genre.

In Annibale Carracci's painting with this motif, the characters are facing the viewer as if they were on stage. On the right a butcher's servant is dragging along a freshly cut ox or cow, the spine and innards visible as in an anatomical longitudinal section, which he is about to hang on a hook. Another servant is kneeling beside a sheep that is lying on the ground, its legs tied, which he is about to slaughter. A third servant is holding a pair of scales, adjusting its weights. In the background, a butcher is taking a hook off the ceiling. Goods are exhibited in front of him, and an old woman is seen stealing a piece of meat without being noticed by the butcher. On the left a rather foolish-looking man, dressed in a dandy-like manner with a feathered hat, tattered, baggy yellow trousers and a huge codpiece, can be seen rummaging awkwardly in his purse. The actions of the characters show that the painting is a thematic representation of a literary motif from a picaresque tale.