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Peasants with Donkeys
Giuseppe Maria Crespi
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Crespi is best known today for his paintings of everyday life. This scene, in which a man lifts a heavy basket of bread rolls from the side of his donkey, draws on the Bolognese tradition of depicting street vendors at their work. A bearded figure on the right raises his hand to purchase three of them, while the woman next to him looks intently towards the seller in an attempt to get his attention. A man carrying a sack on his shoulders strides past, glancing at the central figure as if he’s reacting to something the man is saying.

The nocturnal setting allows for a dramatic contrast between light and dark areas, with particular details highlighted, such as the vendor’s muscular forearm and white sleeve. The three figures to the lower right emerge out of the gloom, the light revealing their individual facial features and expressions.

Key facts
Artist Giuseppe Maria Crespi
Artist dates 1665 - 1747
Full title Peasants with Donkeys
Group Two Peasant Scenes
Date made about 1710-15
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 94.1 x 53.8 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6627
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings after 1600
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Two Peasant Scenes

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Peasants with Donkeys and its companion painting Musicians are intimate scenes of peasant life, observed by night as if we ourselves are part of the action. Both make use of a warm, earthy palette and lively, loose brushwork to bring the figures they depict to life. The two pictures probably date from between 1710 and 1715, shortly after Crespi’s stay in Florence.

These pictures were formerly thought to be fragments of a single composition, perhaps an Old Testament subject. Close examination of the canvases, however, has shown that they were part of two separate, though related, works. Both have at some point been cut down at the left and top edges, and it is impossible to know how large they originally were. They are slightly different sizes but the similarities in the scale of the figures, the range of colour and the lively brushstrokes suggest that they must have been intended to hang together.

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