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Bartolomeo Bettera (Bergamo 1639-c. 1688)
Bartolomeo Bettera (Bergamo 1639-c. 1688)

Musical instruments, sheet music, apples and pears on a pewter platter, a book, a globe and a sculpture on a table draped with a carpet

Details
Bartolomeo Bettera (Bergamo 1639-c. 1688)
Musical instruments, sheet music, apples and pears on a pewter platter, a book, a globe and a sculpture on a table draped with a carpet
signed and inscribed 'Bartolomeo Bettera / f. in Bergamo.' (center right)
oil on canvas
48 3/8 x 61 3/8 in. (122.9 x 155.8 cm.)
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, Milan, 1 June 2005, lot 157.
Anonymous sale; Hampel, Munich, 28 March 2014, lot 1069, where acquired by the present owner.

Lot Essay

This extravagant and highly theatrical still life is the most recent addition to only a small group of signed paintings by Bartolomeo Bettera (see M. Rosci, ‘Bartolomeo e Bonaventura Bettera’, I pittori Bergamaschi: Il seicento, Bergamo, 1985, III, pp. 163-167). Bettera’s hand had long been confused with that of the so-called Monogrammist B.B., a rather pedestrian copyist of the celebrated still life painter, Evaristo Baschenis, to whose workshop he may have belonged. This reputation was entirely undeserved, however, as Bettera was as gifted as Baschenis and operated entirely independently from his workshop. Born in 1639, Bettera was undoubtedly influenced by Baschenis, who was twenty-two years his senior, but he seems to have been equally inspired by the work of the Northern masters whose paintings he may have seen during his stays in Milan and Rome.
Bettera skillfully balanced the composition this painting; crowded with musical instruments, each is expertly depicted and foreshortened. The artist evidently delighted in representing the assorted surface textures, from the cool brass of the bell-recorder to the various polished wood types of the string instruments. The rug and curtain are built up with a stucco preparation, creating a relief, that he then covered in a thick layer of paint, mimicking the three-dimensionality of their weave as it appears in life. Aside from their decorative quality and general aesthetic appeal, to a contemporary viewer, still lifes of this kind would have conveyed allegorical undertones. With the theatrical curtain raised as if onto a stage scene, the Michelangelesque sculpture and the array of musical instruments, this painting may have been an allusion to the arts. Alternatively, the presence of the fruits might have been intended as a vanitas, or, when coupled with the music and the tactility of the rug, may have evoked the five senses.

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