Actually the full title is Still Life with Two Lutes, a Virginal and Books on a Carpeted Table. That is to say, a title that in the most aseptic way possible indicates each and every one of the elements that make up this still life with musical instruments.
The Baroque artist Bartolomeo Bettera (1639 – 1687) throughout his life painted many still lifes composed of musical instruments, and this is part of a tradition that it occurred in the city of Bergamo, in the region of Lombardy north of Italy. But among all his production, this painting that he made around 1670 is possibly one of his best works and can currently be seen atThe Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Still life with two lutes, a virginal and books
And why can it be considered one of his best works? For the extraordinary technique with which it is painted. Something that, for example, can be seen in the golden glitter effects on the two lauds, both arranged upside down. And the folds that can be seen in the ribbon of the lute in the foreground are also extremely delicate.
The magic of this type of still life is that with few elements it is possible to create an attractive, decorative scene, based on reality and faithfulness to show the objects as they are. And interestingly,at the same time the great masters of still life during the baroque painting, such as the Spanish Francisco Zurbarán (Lemons, oranges and roses) or the Flemish Willem Kalf, are able to completely isolate these same elements from reality, something they achieve thanks to impossible lighting and backgrounds.
The painting of Bettera also has this same quality, since the background is completely black, which decontextualizes the table where the instruments are. Although, he gives us an oriental rug in the lower part of the canvas to give us a clue that this type of scene can only occur in a we althy house, which, on the other hand, are the ones that buy his paintings. These were their clients, and for them they composed these images that in some way had a symphonic vocation, since the buyers must have been great music fans, and could imagine melodies in which the instruments that star in the image sounded.
That is why the painters specialized in this type of still life, such as Bettera himself or his teacher Evaristo Baschenis, were great connoisseurs of the music of their time and of the instruments themselves, in fact they worked very close to some of the best luthiers in Italy, coming from neighboring Lombardy of Cremona.