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Annibale Carracci - The Bean Eater

by Helen Bremm

Annibale Carracci's famous work The Bean Eater lets us look into a simple room. A man in a shirt, vest and straw hat is sitting at a set table and is about to shove a spoonful of beans into his mouth. With his other hand, he reaches for a piece of bread that has broken off the loaf and is lying on the table. The hand is brought to the already slightly open mouth, the upper body bent forward over the table. Carracci thus succeeds in capturing the moment of action. The painting looks like a modern "snapshot", very vivid, and therefore draws us so under its spell.

On the table in front of the man, who seems to be a simple farmer, next to the bowl with the beans, there is a plate with baked vegetables, a jug and a glass with wine, next to it there is bread and spring onions. The table is covered with a white tablecloth.

At first, the painting seems like a depiction of simple peasant life. But small details make us wonder: the tablecloth, the pitcher, and the elegant wine glass don't seem to fit quite right with the humble life. The key to the puzzle is the window through which light enters the otherwise dark room. The cross-shaped strut of the window stands out strikingly, and dramatically the light falls on the scene in the foreground. The cross is the clue that the genre painting is subject to a religious influence. The tablecloth and wine jug, as well as the broken bread, symbolize the Last Supper.

Annibale Carracci follows the trend of artists of his time, especially in Flemish painting, to incorporate religious scenes into everyday and genre paintings. The painting invites the viewer to spirituality and devotion. Following the call of the post-Tridentine church, the painting fulfills a didactic function.

Annibale Carracci - The Bean Eater

Oil on wood, 1583, 57 x 68 cm, Galleria Colonna in Rome


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