Lot 35
  • 35

North Italian School, second half of the 17th Century

60,000 - 80,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • A vanitas still life with an hourglass, a skull, a violin, a snuffed candle, coins, books, musical scores, cards, a sword, a helmet and a woolen cloth on a table draped with a Persian carpet
  • oil on canvas
  • 42 1/2  by 61 7/8  in.; 108 by 157 cm.


With the Vose Gallery, Boston (according to a label on the reverse);
With Cesare Lampronti, Rome, from whom acquired by the present collector (as attributed to Pierfrancesco Cittadini).

Catalogue Note

It is unusual for a still life of this quality to have eluded a secure attribution. The sharp contrast in the use of light adds theatricality to the richly stacked table and suggests an artist at the very least conversant with the lasting stylistic innovations of Caravaggio. The various vanitas elements portrayed, however, do not immediately fit in with the dominant strands of mid- to late-century still-life painting in Rome or Naples, the two artistic centers most profoundly affected by Caravaggio's work. The choice of objects shown betrays a distinctly Northern influence, in particular Bergamo, home to the famed Evaristo Baschenis and his most accomplished follower, Bartolomeo Bettera. 

While the viewpoint of the present work is raised compared to the body of works securely given to Bettera, a number of individual motifs found in the present work recurs in several of Bettera's paintings: the inkwell, the set of scales, the draped sheet of paper, and, most remarkably, the unusual skein of wool, are found in Bettera's still life of comparable dimensions in a private collection (fig. 1).1 Moreover, similar Persian carpets are found throughout Bettera's oeuvre and, in particular, in his signed still life which once again displays sheets of paper, some of them musical scores, draped over the front of the table in a similar fashion.2

It is possible that the exquisite still-life elements on the left, specifically the hourglass, the flowers in a blue faience vase and the skull, were added to the painting by a very skilled artist. One can see that they are painted over other elements in the painting, which now show through slightly. A plausible candidate for this enhancement is Pierfrancesco Cittadini (1616-1681) from Milan, to whom this painting was once ascribed and whose Flowers in Silver Pitcher, which recently appeared on the market in Austria, contains nearly the identically formed pink rose as in the floral arrangement here.It is interesting to note further that according to Malvasia, Cittadini moved to Rome, and Bettera’s aforementioned signed still life is inscribed “IN ROMA.”  Perhaps the two Lombard artists met in the Eternal City and collaborated on this magisterial still life. 

1. Private collection, canvas, 103 by 147 cm; see F. Rossi (ed.), Evaristo Baschenis e la natura morta in Europa, exhibition catalogue, Milan 1996, pp. 258-61, cat. no. 53, reproduced in color (exhibited with its pendant, the Still-life with Musical Instruments, no. 52).
2. Private collection, canvas, 120 by 175 cm; signed BARTOLAMEO (sic) BETTERA / F. IN ROMA; Rossi, op. cit., pp. 266-67, cat. no. 56, reproduced in color.
3. Sale, Vienna, Dorotheum, 20 October 2015, no. 242; see M. Pulini, "Pier Francesco Cittadini," in Quaderni del Barocco, vol. 2: Dipinti inediti del barocco italiano da collezione privata, exhibition catalogue, Ariccia 2008, p. 14, fig. 23. Another plausible collaboration between Bettera and Cittadini is the Still-life with Musical Instruments with a Basket of Fruit and a Vase of Flowers in a Silver Vase, which was given by Giancarlo Sestieri and Laura Laureati to Cittadini alone in Nature morte e paesaggi italiani ed europei del XVII e XVIII secolo, an exhibition held in Rome at the Galleria Cesare Lampronti in 1993, no. 11, reproduced in the catalogue.