Bernardo Strozzi, detto il Cappuccino
Certainly Strozzi's best-known painting, this canvas, known as The Cook, rather portrays a scullery maid plucking a goose among chickens and pigeons, with a turkey hanging behind her, in the kitchen of a seventeenth-century Genoese aristocratic residence. Among the families of the local nobility, the profession of cook was reserved exclusively for men at the time, while women could only take care of humbler tasks, such as plucking poultry; that it is an aristocratic residence, on the other hand, it is certain, given the presence in the foreground of a rich embossed silver tin plate, with an elaborate handle depicting a female figure. The painting is mentioned for the first time in the inventory of 1683-1684 by Gio. Francesco I Brignole - Sale, client of the Palazzo Rosso residence; from the second decade of the eighteenth century, however, and at least until 1774, the work is always remembered in the family villa on the Albaro hill: it is very likely that this less prestigious location was motivated by the immediate everyday subject of the painting, judged probably not suited to the decoration of the city palace, whose picture gallery had been enriched, between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, with canvases of historical subjects or sacred iconography. Strozzi's work is an admirable synthesis of the various influences that in the early decades of the seventeenth century constituted the fabric of local painting: on the one hand the Flemish fashion for the representations of "kitchens", "markets", "pantries", which he had found examples, already in the mid-sixteenth century, in paintings by painters such as Aertsen and Beuckelaer, present in the Genoese collections; on the other hand, the new focus on the genre of "still life", due to the presence in the city of painters, still from Flanders, such as Jan Roos or Giacomo Liegi; lastly, the first affirmation of that naturalism of Caravaggesque origin that constituted the other pole of updating of the local school, which is joined by the typical brushstroke of the painter. From an iconographic point of view, the desire to compete with the representation of popular subjects is clear, showing an adherence to reality still unknown to Genoese painters, and singular when considering this choice by a religious; it is not excluded, however, that beyond this immediate meaning other symbolic contents may be hidden in the painting, perhaps - as has been proposed - an allegory of the four elements, to which the birds would allude, for the air, the elaborate stagnara , for the water, the "cook", for the earth, and the fire, which the painter paints with great skill in its crackling under the cauldron.