mona lisa smileLove reading analysis of famous paintings? 

Explore 250 top art paintings with the Famous Paintings ebook - and discover highlights in U.S. and European art museumsWith sortable data and introductory art essays. 


Then try smiling like that. 


Famous Paintings Reviewed

Famous Painters: Juan Sanchez Cotan

Posted by Susan Benford

It's remarkable that one of the most famous painters of the Spanish Golden Age has only six existing works after shaping Spanish still life painting for nearly a century.

Introducing Juan Sanchez Cotan.

Near the end of the 16th century, still life painting emerged as a specific genre at nearly the same time in Spain, theJuan Sanchez Cotan still life with game vegetables fruitjpg resized 600

Juan Sanchez Cotan. Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit, 1602.  Oil on canvas, approximately 27" by 35".  Prado, Madrid.

Netherlands and Northern Italy.  Three factors were behind this simultaneity:

  1. the Baroque taste for naturalistic portrayal of nature; 
  2. the growing affluence of the bourgeois, who sought art with new subject matter; and
  3. the revived interest in ancient erudition and efforts to surpass the creations of Zeuxis, an ancient Greek painter who allegedly portrayed grapes so realistically that birds pecked his canvases. 

The first known painter of Spanish still lifes was Blas de Prado, although none of his works survives.  It is believed he instructed Juan Sanchez Cotan (1560-1627), who is the first Spanish still life painter with existing works. 

The earliest of these Cotan paintings – and likely the earliest known Spanish still life, or bodegon - is Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit. It exemplifies the mastery that Juan Sanchez Cotan brought to the genre: everyday objects are instilled with a dignity that monumentalizes them.

In Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit, everyday objects are arranged in different planes protruding from the pictorial space.  On the far right is a cardoon, a thistle-like relative of the artichoke.  juan sanchez cotan still life with thistle resized 600

Juan Sanchez Cotan.  Still Life with Thistle, 1602.  Oil on canvas, approximately 24" by 32".  Granada Museum of Fine Arts, Granada.

Its dominant curves soften the composition’s rigid right angles and geometry. Intense lighting from the side creates volumes and shadows with tenebrism contemporaneous to Caravaggio’s.  

That same year, Cotan created Still Life with Thistle, which shares similarities with Still Life with Game.  He again features a cardoon or thistle; the pictorial plane is parallel to the viewer; and volume is again accentuated by the contrast between the vegetables and the near black background. 

But Still Life with Thistle is a far simpler composition in which the typical focus point - the center - is nothing but blackness.  As with all still lifes, the objective is realism -- and Cotan achieves it masterfully.

The best known Juan Sanchez Cotan painting is his Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber.  Here the irregularly rounded vegetables and fruits are juxtaposed against the geometry of a cupboard, which often had foods juan sanchez cotan still life quince cabbage melon cucumber resized 600

Juan Sanchez Cotan.  Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber, c. 1602.  Oil on canvas, 27 1/8" by 33 1/4".  San Diego Museum of Art.

suspended from string to prevent rot.  A strong arc bending from the upper left to lower right corner draws the eye into this trompe l'oeil rendering. 

For nearly all of the 17th century, Spanish still life painting followed Juan Sanchez Cotan's model of a brilliant light source illuminating objects against a solid, dark background Although Sanchez Cotan enjoyed some success as a painter - it's known that he loaned a substantial amount to his friend, El Greco - Spanish still life paintings weren't highly sought after until the mid 20th century. Until then, the Spanish court preferred still lifes from the Netherlands as decorations for their courts. 

Shortly after completing Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, Sanchez Cotan renounced his earthly possessions, abandoned his studio (including this painting) and joined
cotanthe Carthusian monks. Some viewers see religious overtones in Cotan's paintings, claiming that he through his realism he strove to demonstrate the brilliance of God's creations; others see these works simply as phenomenal still lifes. 

In either case, it is inarguable that Sanchez Cotan rightfully belongs in the ranks of famous painters for his enduring contributions to Spanish still life painting.

Question: How and why do Juan Sanchez Cotan paintings feel timeless over 400 years after their creation?


Like reading about famous painters and art history?

Join this art history blog from Masterpiece Cards, a boxed set of art history flashcards that reproduce and examine 250 of the most famous paintings in Western art history.  Plus, by joining the blog, you're entered to win a free set, given away monthly.

Join Art History Blog Here



Topics: famous painters, Baroque painters, Juan Sanchez Cotan

Join this Blog - (and add your thoughts!)

Feeling Lucky?

famous paintings cards

Good - because we're feeling generous!

Join this blog and earn a chance to win a FREE set of Masterpiece Cards (a $60 value). 

Enter Me to Win!

Famous Paintings ebook

This free ebook has a wealth of facts and articles about the 250 influential paintings in Masterpiece Cards.

Did we mention it's free? d0e42560-d745-43b3-8b2d-9ee2d3273b82

Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums - ebooks

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Most Popular Posts

Michelangelo PaintingsThe Torment of Saint Anthony; The Manchester Madonna;Holy Family (Doni Tondo); and Entombment

Cave Paintings: explore this prehistoric art in Spain and France.

Picasso's Las Meninas: 58 Picasso paintings inspired by Velazquez's Las Meninas

Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Other

Art History Reading List: 50+ great reads in fiction and non-fiction

Art History Videos on YouTube

Cave Paintings

Most Controversial Paintings

Google Art ProjectArt Museums Up Close

Survey of Female Artists

Survey of Renaissance Paintings.

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors