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"Madonna and Chine"

Bartolomeo Basterotti 

Basterotti graduated from the Bologna School of Fine & Applied Art in 1551, at the peak of the Art Student Glut of 1548-1552. Desperate for commissions, he rented himself out to a generic Madonna-and-Child shop where he was forced to churn out dozens of nearly identical canvases every week for the religious tourist trade. 

From time to time there was a special commission which broke the monotony. In November of 1551 the wealthy pork merchant Dominic Satriale came to the studio wishing to sponsor a Madonna-and-Child for the local chapel of Saint Anthony the Obese. Basterotti got the assignment, and the following Monday showed up at Satriale’s residence as requested. He whipped off a couple of sketches, using the proprietor’s 15-year-old daughter and 1-year-old granddaughter as models, but Satriale remained dissatisfied, suggesting that the pork store itself might make a better, more realistic setting. He also suggested putting himself in the picture, as so many art patrons of that era did. 

The young painter did a few more charcoal sketches with the store in the background, but again Satriale was unimpressed, proposing the actual butcher table as a setting. He also suggested replacing the infant with a nice center loin pork roast for purposes of balance and composition, and he hung out lots of choice cuts on the meathooks “just to fill in the space,” as he put it, and added the head of a fine Sicilian wild boar, behind which he posed himself, knife in hand. It was all Basterotti could do to prevent him from posting a “Big Pork Sale at Satriale’s” sign in the foreground.

It took the artist a full week to finish the commission, after which he thought seriously of becoming a vegetarian. However, when Satriale discovered that his daughter was in the family way again after an overnight “posing session” at the painter’s studio, Basterotti was abruptly brought into the pork business with the persuasion of a handsome dowry and a magnum-load shotgun. A few years later he gave up painting altogether to concentrate on gluttony. He died in 1591 from complications of flab.


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