PASSEROTTI, Bartolomeo
(b. 1529, Bologna, d. 1592, Bologna)

The Butcher's Shop

Oil on canvas, 112 x 152 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The two paintings in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica (The Butcher's Shop an the Fishmonger's Shop) were originally part of a series of four. The dating of the pictures, considered to rank among the best examples of Italian genre painting, oscillates between 1578-80 and 1585-90. There are close stylistic connections between these canvases and the works of the Dutch masters Aertsen and Beuckelaer, as well as with the Butcher's Shop by Annibale Carracci (now at Oxford).

Passerotti describes the butcher's shop with a combination of realistic precision in the rendering of details and irony in the characterization of the people. In late sixteenth century art the theme of the butcher shop was moralistically interpreted as an allegorical warning about the temptations of flesh and of indulgence in erotic passions without caution. According to the counter-reformation precepts laid down by Gabriele Paleotti (1582), veiled moral messages could be transmitted through comical pictures.

In both pictures the sparrow appears: as this bird's Italian name is the passerotto, the artist used it as a type of pictorial signature.