Cecchini likens killing an animal to a religious act because meat is a sacrifice, the highest form of food. There has always been a strong link between religion and meat. In many cultures a religious figure performs the task.
In fact, in addition to his still life paintings, Jacopo da Empoli is mostly known for his religious works for the churches of Florence. The museum also houses his other works such as The Sacrifice of Isaac, from the 1590s and Sant'Eligio of 1614. He was an important painter for what became the reform movement of Italian Mannerism (also called late renaissance). This still life painting differs from the carnality presented in the baroque-style painting of Annibale Caracci, The Butcher’s Shop, or the opposition of good and evil in the Butcher’s Stall painting of the northern mannerist Pieter Aertsen. It’s simply a display of a wealth of seasonal ingredients defined by the contrast of light and shadow, clearly inspired by the chiaroscuro style of Caravaggio.
“Death feeds life,” says Cecchini. “Eating meat is a sacred act. You need to respect life and celebrate it at the table. You need to respect an animal and kill it responsibly; respect each muscle, tendon, bone, as each piece is a part of a life. It must be taken care of and used fully, from nose to tail.” For Cecchini, this painting depicts paradise, such is the role of the painter to make us appreciate the abundance of food. “Religious paintings make us see the paradise of the soul, and food paintings the paradise on earth. We are all in the big circle of life, whether we are a painter or a butcher, we all try to do our part with honour, respect and responsibility.”
Cecchini is on a mission to protect and promote the traditional concept of the local butcher and their respect for all parts of animals. The Dante-quoting rock-star butcher represents the eighth generation in the lineage of Cecchini butchers, and runs three restaurants in Panzano, Chianti. He defines himself not as a chef, but as a modern butcher. And at the age of 65, he has been preparing meat for nearly half a century, and serving steak and poetry to an international audience for more than a decade. Through his collaboration with the Uffizi, he hopes his message will resonate among a wider audience of aficionados who appreciate the art of food every bit as much as they love the art of painting.