Evaristo Baschenis (Bergamo 1617-1677)
Evaristo Baschenis (Bergamo 1617-1677)

A still life with musical instruments

Evaristo Baschenis (Bergamo 1617-1677)
A still life with musical instruments
signed 'EVARISTUS BASCHENIS P.' (on the edge of the spinet)
oil on canvas
38 x 57 1/8 in. (98 x 145 cm.)
Count Moroni, Bergamo.
G. de Logu, Pittori minori Liguri, Lombardi, Piemontese del seicento e del settocento, Venice, 1931, p. 220.
L. Angelini, I Baschenis, Bergamo, 1946, p. 85, plate XLII.
M. Rosci, Baschenis, Bettera & Co. Produzione e Mercato della natura morta de seicento in Italia, Milan, 1971, pp. 50-1, 55 and 124, no. 103, illustrated.
J. T. Spike, Italian still life paintings from three centuries, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1983, pp. 76-7, no. 24.
L. Salerno, Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1984, pp. 94-5, no. 39, illustrated.
L. Salerno, Italian still life painting in Italy, 1560- 1805, Rome, 1984, p. 155, fig. 39.2.
L. Ravelli, Bartolomeo Arbotoni piacentino, maestro di Evaristo Baschenis: ipotesi sulla formazione del pittore bergamasco, Bergamo, 1987, p. 51, no. 46.
G. Anedi, et al., La curiosità dipinta: elementi di collezionismo tra XVI et XVIII secolo, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1990, p. 35, no. III.
Italian still life painting, The Silvano Lodi collection, Jerusalem, 1994, pp. 70-1.
C. Bertelli, et al., Evaristo Baschenis e la natura morta in Europa, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 1996, pp. 184-7, no. 24.
S. Dathe, Natura morte italiana: Italienisches stilleben aus vier Jahrhunderten, Sammlung Silvano Lodi, exhibition catalogue, Ravensburg, 2003.
National Academy of Design, New York, Italian still life paintings from three centuries, 2 February - 13 March 1983, no. 24; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, 9 April - 30 June 1983; and Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, 30 July - 11 September, 1983.
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinokothek, Munich, Italian still life painting from three centuries, The Silvano Lodi collection, 27 November 1984 - 22 February 1985, no. 37; Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen-Preussicher Kulturbesitz, Berlin, 6 September - 27 October 1985.
X Internazionale Antiquariato, Milan, La curiosità dipinta: elementi di collezionismo tra XVI et XVIII secolo, 30 March - 8 April 1990, no. III; Galleria Principe Eugenio, Turin, 18 April - 5 May 1990.
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Italian still life painting, The Silvano Lodi collection, June 1994.
Galleria d'arte moderna e contemporanea, Bergamo, Evaristo Baschenis e la natura morta in Europa, 4 October 1996 - 12 January 1997, no. 24. Seijo Togo Memorial Kasai Museum of Art, Tokyo, Italian still life painting, from The Silvano Lodi collection, 28 April - 26 May 2001, no. 25.
Schloss Achberg, Ravensburg, Natura morte italian: Italienische stilleben aus vier Jahrhunderten, Sammlung Silvano Lodi, 11 April - 12 October 2003.
Sale room notice
Please note the additional literature for this lot:
A. Bayer, ed., The Still Lifes of Evaristo Baschenis- The Music of Silence, exhibition catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Milan, 2000, p. 37, fig. 19, detail ill., pp. 43 and 51.

Lot Essay

In the present painting, considered by many to be a among the best works of the artist, Baschenis displays his bravura as a painter of still life. The whole is laid out on a horizontal plane, the long table with a bright red damask covering serving as a solid, smooth surface on which he arranges the musical instruments in a dynamic composition executed with the utmost skill. The spinet serves as the axis to the composition, behind which lie a guitar and a violin. The foreground is dominated by a mandolin and a lute, each dramatically turned upside down, the central composition is framed by a rich brocade drape with gold trim. Baschenis creates movement in this otherwise still composition with a fan motif, seen first in the pile of books on the left, then on the backs of the lute and mandolin in the center of the composition, and finally in the body of the guitar on the right.

Baschenis creates further drama by playing with the spatial organization of the compositional elements. The diagonal arrangement of the spinet, with its right edge coming off the tabletop, the precarious positioning of the lute on top of the mandolin, and the dramatic protrusion of the mandolin into the viewer's space lend to the interest of this composition. The unusual placement of the mandolin is not merely the artist's display of his mastery of spatial tricks, he also shows an understanding of the structure of the instrument, and, significantly, his alliance with the artisan of that instrument, Michael Hartung. Hartung's device, 'M+H', is branded on the edge of the mandolin and prominently displayed on the foremost plane of the picture. Hartung was a well known maker of musical instruments, born in Tieffenbruch and documented in Padua in 1587, thereafter working in Venice. The other instruments may be the work of Nicolò Amati, in nearby Cremona, who Baschenis also knew personally.

The light source in this painting comes from above, the most dynamic angle from which to display his skills. The instruments throw shadows on the red cloth, and the cloth, in turn, casts its bright hue onto the edge of the shiny surface of the spinet. The light lands softly on the back of the lute, diffused by a layer of dust through which finger marks are present, the conceit for which Baschenis is most well known.

This painting was first recorded by Biancale in 1912, as part of the collection of Francesco Moroni. The Moroni were one of the most important families of Bergamo in the seventeenth century. A wealthy property owner and silk merchant, Francesco was also a member of the city council. He is perhaps best remembered for his commission of his sumptuous residence in Bergamo in 1646. A patron of the arts, his collection included works by Moretto, Andrea Previtalli, Bernardino Luini, the Bassano and Giacomo Cortese, il Bourgognone. His interests were not limited to the visual arts, he played a role the production of the L'Ercole effeminato, Bergamo's best known dramatic production at the time. It is fitting , therefore, that this wealthy patron would commmission a still life of this subject. In fact, in an early inventory of his collection (still unpublished), from 7 December 1680, two still lifes of instruments are noted.

Although not strictly a pupil of Caravaggio, Baschenis took inspiration from the musical instruments depicted in genre paintings by Caravaggio and his followers. His musical instrument still lifes also reveal his knowledge of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings on vanitas themes, yet Baschenis never painted an hourglass, a clock, or a guttering candle. In this respect, he is rightly regarded as an heir to Caravaggio, whose still lifes similarly avoided reliance upon conventional symbols. Baschenis has no peer among the European still life painters of the mid-seventeenth century for his spiritual approach to the genre and for his realization of a thematic depth usually exclusive to figure paintings. His most original theme is the sense of a moment arrested in time.

'His works are esteemed in every place not only by informed observers but even by every sort of person, who, no matter how inexpert he may be, is taken by a great pleasure and marvel by the sight of this artist's paintings, which have a quality all their own' - this observation by F.M. Tassi, an eighteenth-century critic, still stands unchallenged. The principal elements of the Baschenis repertory are all represented in the present painting. The instruments with the settled dust and the restless, curling pages are two of the artist's emblems of Time. It is very possible that Baschenis attached a melancholic significance to these marvelous instruments that are now neglected. More than most of his compositions, this outstanding Still Life with Musical Instruments appears to suggest that a concert has in fact taken place in this room, the floor of which is glimpsed to the right.

Bertelli (op. cit. above) dates this painting to the 1660's and notes that two autograph reduced versions of it exist: one in a private collection, Bergamo, the other in a private collection, Monza.

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