The paintings of the still anonymous Master of the Fertility of the Egg (Il Maestro della Fertilità dell’Uovo) are often associated with those of Faustino Bocchi (1659-1741) and his circle. However, the satirical content and symbolic meanings of his paintings are expressed in a unique and unusual style.
In all the three paintings, the protagonist is a black pig in a pink garment that appears to personify authority. Since pigs are generally associated with negative values such as greed, lust, gluttony or sloth, the paintings should very likely be read as satirical allegories, containing elements of the world turned upside down (‘Il mondo alla riversa’)
The translated inscription of the painting reads: “The student is a donkey and the teacher is a pig / you can judge who has a greater knowledge than us”. The black pig is shown as a teacher lecturing a number of students who are personified by various animals; among them, in the upper left corner, is the donkey mentioned in the inscription. The painting recalls a composition by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Ass at School, which bears an inscription that reads in translation: “Although the ass goes to school in order to learn, if it is an ass, it will not return (as) a horse”. Also, the Master of the Fertility of the Egg’s painting can be read as a visualisation of the saying that a slow-witted person is not capable of becoming learned regardless of how much he studies. Beyond that, since the Italian master also personifies the teacher as a pig, the painting seems to mock the incompetence of teachers as well.
The name of the painter derives from a painting in the Milwaukee Art Museum, titled The Fertility of the Egg. There is no documentary evidence regarding this master and the painter’s identity is still in question. Based on his XVII century manner of painting and Northern style some scholars have suggested that the painter may have been a predecessor of Faustino Bocchi.
The Master could be seen as the inventor of a “moral zoology”, emphasizing the madness of human condition and the vanity and ridiculousness inherent in life by depicting seemingly absurd characters. The contents and style of the Master are typical of the XVII century.