Bergamo 1639- doc. until 1699
Still life with musical instruments
oil on canvas, 162×244 cm
The canvas we are presented is, as Lanfranco Ravelli stresses in his study dedicated to it, a precious and completely new testimonial of the mature phase of Bartolomeo Bettera, the greatest specialist in still life compositions with musical instruments after his fellow-townsman Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677). The latter had certainly been carefully studied by the author of the work presented here, who more than once reveals his knowledge and dependency on the Bergamo-born master; however, as Alberto Cottino stressed some time ago, Bettera “is a real artist, endowed with an own figurative language” who gives proof of a culture “which appears more modern and eclectic than the more traditional and Lombard one” of Baschenis (in Bartolomeo Bettera. “La sonata Barocca”, catalogue of the exhibition curated by A. Cottino, Bergamo, 2008, p. 6).
The canvas by the painter from Bergamo features an extraordinary selection of string instruments, a cabinet, a harpsicord and music scores, framed by a sumptuous curtain. One is impressed by the quantity of objects represented, stacked and balancing in a precarious equilibrium which, according to Ravelli, represent “the disturbing metaphor of vanitas, of the inevitable waning of earthly seductions into nothingness”, a concept which is undoubtedly reinforced by the presence of two lit candles and an oil lamp, a quite unusual presence in the work of the Lombard artist.
The canvas – which is extraordinary by virtue of the unusual, or perhaps we should rather say monumental, dimensions – must as the scholar observes have been painted during the final phase of the artist’s life, of which we unfortunately possess very little biographic information after the encounter with Roman painting that inspired a desire in Bettera to achieve “great works”; this painting constitutes a summation of this aspiration.
The painting will be the subject of a study by Lanfranco Ravelli in a forthcoming issue of “Rivista di Bergamo”.