Far from the usual chains of art history, Nicolas Autheman proposes a journey into the heart of a mysterious painting. His lively documentary adopts the technique already adopted in The world in a painting, Vermeer’s hatreleased in 2020.

1618. Velazquez painted Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, a painting that at first sight represents two women in the kitchen. The title derives from an inverted composition, with Christ, Martha and Mary appearing in a window in the background. In the foreground we see a detail, a fragment: a small red pepper placed on the table.

This extremely pungent food, used in different cuisines, rituals, beliefs, both hated and adored, arrived in the Velazquez network for very specific reasons. The documentary encourages us to reflect, to see beyond, behind the scenes of this more enigmatic canvas than it seems. It reveals, with precision and meticulousness, the true meaning of this small detail that did not belong to the painter and his sponsors.

Historical stories from Spain

The narrator François Morel takes us deep into the historical tales of Spain to discover the debacles that allowed this little pepper to be at the center of the Velazquez network. He travels through history, recalling the harsh and tragic realities that marked the Spanish colonization, the massacre of the Incas, the diseases brought there by the settlers … And these peppers they brought back on their return, as if to give … revive the their adventure.

Nicolas Autheman today found commentators interested in this obscure piece of history and their history. A cook is familiar with the dish prepared by the cooks in the painting: it is an adobo, a typical Spanish fish marinade; a farmer, with his family, tells of the beliefs that have developed around peppers; a young Mexican artist remembers her own search for identity linked to her colonized ancestors; a priest evokes the Christianization of South America at the time of the arrival of the colonists.

Thanks to this little spice, the underlying layers of Spanish colonial history are exposed to us in a totally unexpected and almost playful way. Every detail counts and allows us to understand the context of the creation of Velazquez’s work, the decisions and dilemmas that allowed the painting to exist.

The world in a painting, Velazquez’s pepperdocumentary by Nicolas Autheman (Fr., 2022, 80 min).

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