(b. 1617, Bergamo, d. 1677, Bergamo)

Musical Instruments

Oil on canvas, 98,5 x 147 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

A number of musical instruments are placed in apparent disorder on a large table with carved legs, the top of which crosses the canvas horizontally. A dark green cloth placed loosely on it reveals to the left an open drawer from which a musical score hangs out. The falling fabric subtly breaks the strict symmetry of the table, producing the illusion of an attractive contour similar to the many found among the instruments. The diagonal light creates a mysterious chiaroscuro, completely effacing the extremely bare décor and highlighting the subject of the painting, in which a sensuously curved bass viol dominates. This instrument, back to us, is surrounded at both ends by two wood and ivory marquetry guitars. In the foreground we see, from left to right, a cittern, a mandola, and a small violin placed on its spine with its bow. In the background to the right are a lute and a flute. The scattered musical scores and a few soft-coloured ribbons provide some light touches to a mostly dark-toned composition.

The warm, velvety precious materials of the objects are displayed with a rare mastery by the precise drawing, the raking light and the refined nuances of the brown, bronze and light yellow colours. Sobriety, reserve, harmony, rhythm and austerity govern the composition of this very noble composition. No decorative draperies, no superfluous details, but an expertly constructed picture in which volumes and planes are geometrically placed and which prefigures the still-lifes of the analytic Cubists. The instruments left lying, mute, at the end of a concert, and the presence to the right of two small decomposing apples, and the silence haunting the picture all evoke the precariousness and brevity of life. Here we have all the symbols of a Vanitas or a Memento mori.

When the picture arrived in the museum in 1908, the nearly invisible signature was exposed. This marked the beginning of the rediscovery and recognition of the work of Evaristo Baschenis, who had been nearly totally forgotten over time. This Bergamo artist also painted a number of kitchen interiors decorated with fruit, vegetables and dead animals, but owes his reputation to his still-lifes composed of musical instruments, of which the present one is probably the most perfect.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.