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Still life with musical instruments
17th Century
Still life with musical instruments
[Natura morta con strumenti musicali]
Oil on canvas
75 x 108 cm  [HxW]
Maurizio Sammartini, Venezia

Evaristo Baschenis was born in 1617 in Bergamo, where he died in 1677, apparently without ever leaving his home town, even though it seems likely that he did make a journey to Venice, of which no documents survive, when he was young.

Sources reveal that he came into contact with Borgognone, the French specialist in painting battle scenes, and he took up this genre in the early years of his career. Only later did he turn to the two types of painting which were to bring him the fame he enjoys today: his “kitchens”, but especially his still lives with musical instruments.

Almost none of Baschenis’ paintings bears a date. What is more, large numbers of copies and imitations have made it difficult to distinguish paintings by Baschenis from those by his followers or imitators — a task being carried out in recent years — and to put his vast and complex production into chronological order.

The generally accepted view today is that the “dilated and sumptuous” paintings were made in his youth, when the artist gave free rein to his taste for describing several instruments in the minutest detail. He placed them in complex compositions against backgrounds of precious fabrics, broken up by a whole range of different, sophisticated objects.

Caravaggio’s painting, together with treatises on perspective and the tradition of marquetry, lie at the heart of Baschenis’ extraordinary creations. His exhibition of musical instruments is no longer justified by the inclusion of moral reminders, which were still generally to be found in still lives at the time (superb examples can be seen in Spanish works), but has a value of its own, since it is able to please the beholder through the objectiveness of its vision, the harmony of its forms, and the perspective and formal precision of its composition.

Laura Lanzeni

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