In a Roman Osteria

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License of this image: CC-BY-SA
License of original image: National Gallery of Denmark - Statens Museum for Kunst - CC0

By: Carl Bloch (1834-90)
Created: 1866, Collection: National Gallery of Denmark - Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark Rights: CC0

Get ready to smoulder. It's all in the stern look of the man versus the come hither eyes of the women.

As is often the case in Bloch’s work, knives and forks are brandished around freely. This  is one of Bloch’s most popular genre pictures and is is an intensified version of a painting by one of Bloch’s major predecessors, Wilhelm Marstrand (1810-1873);  his Italian Osteria Scene from 1848 (Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek).

Bloch’s ability to depict objects, details, and clothes with realism is striking.  The women are also seducing the viewer however,  and the phallic decanter to the left may be close to an inviting mouth but is equally – and unpleasantly – close to a knife and a fork with only two large prongs considerably more pointy than those of the young man’s fork.

The genre pictures were a break from the many commissions from the Danish Establishment. Friars with toothache, monks plucking chickens, coarse fishwives, and children hunting innocent ducks were among his favourite subjects. These pictures were usually very amusing, but also often rather strange and very much open to interpretation.