This remarkable still life of antique objects and coins is, despite the unmistakable signature 'HVBorcht', impossible to attribute with certainty. The artist is either Hendrik van der Borcht the Elder (1583-1660) or the Younger (1614-1665), a father and son who shared both a passion for antiquities and a patron, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, whose extensive art collection was widely admired.
We know of only two other extant still lifes attributed to either van der Borcht, both representing antiquities and painted on copper. One, a large composition of circular format, features an ornate arrangement of statues, coins and medals, together with vases and a bowl, against a dark green ground (Hermitage, Leningrad). The second, of horizontal format, is closer in composition to the Held still life (Historisches Museum, Frankfurt). Interestingly, several items appear in more than one still life, such as the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century seated female figurine (seen in the present work and the Frankfurt painting), the bust of a scowling man (featured in both the Frankfurt and Leningrad paintings), and several of the classically-styled cameos grouped at lower left; this would suggest that they come from an actual collection, perhaps once belonging to the artist himself.
Thanks to van der Borcht's incredibly detailed depictions of the various antique coins and medals in the present still life, all are recognizable to contemporary scholars. All but two are genuine Greek and Roman artifacts: the bronze sestertius from the reign of Tiberius and the bronze medallion from the reign of Marcus Aurelius are both, in fact, Renaissance copies attributed to Giovanni da Cavino (1500-1570). Though not originally intended as forgeries, these and other works by the Paduan artist were so skillfully cast as to be nearly indistinguishable from originals, and were frequently sold to unsuspecting collectors as authentic.
The other objects in the present compositional group include a statuette of a urinating Hercules, likely also a Renaissance replica of a classical bronze, based on the shiny patina of the metal. The marble torso of Aphrodite is probably an antique, as is the bronze female bust, which would have functioned as a furniture mount. Both the narrow glass vase and the terra-cotta urn are of a characteristically Roman type.