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

Still-life with Instruments

Oil on canvas, 108 x 153 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

The art of Baschenis represents a peculiar chapter in the development of Italian still-life painting: through it the Bergamo School suddenly became famous, and since he had many followers and pupils, the genre of still-life painting with instruments became widely practiced. His large ceremonial compositions are his most characteristic and best works. The moderate and cheerful realism of his style was inspired by Caravaggio, but it remained free of the soul-searching dilemma encountered by the painters of seventeenth-century Rome, Naples and Florence. In his choice of themes and objects he was probably influenced by the world-famous instrument-making shop at nearby Cremona, which, for example, produced the beautiful lutes and violins of the Amati family.

In Baschenis's paintings the instruments are the mediums of the Vanitas idea, and they are seldom coupled with the more expressive images of skulls, candles or books. In themselves a violin with its strings broken or a dusty lute are symbols of mortality. In this painting a single flower accentuates the meaning, and the presence of the globe makes it universally valid. Even the jewel-inlaid ebony writing desk is not merely decorative counterpoint in the red-gold-blue-green-brown harmony; rather it invokes the vanity of sciences as well. The two lutes laid down across each other and the violin rendered in side-view reveal the painter's excellent knowledge of the instruments' anatomy.

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