Still life finds its roots in the tombs of ancient Egypt, where items were painted in order for them to be sent to the afterlife with the deceased. The Ancient Greeks would adorn vases with everyday objects. The Romans too used mosaics, or emblemas, to decorate their homes, with the wealthy classes of Rome embellishing their homes with the lavish range of food they enjoyed.

The roots of natura morta - still life which depict decaying fruit and dead animals - also finds its roots in Rome, as it was tradition to include skulls in paintings as a reminder of the equality death brings. It was then the Dutch painters of the 1600s which portrayed the human obsession with the macabre.

Antwerp was an important place for the development of still life in Europe. Dutch painters would depict the grotesque and carnival, portraying raw meats and dead animals. As the Dutch explorers found their way to Asia, art in Holland became obsessed with the exotic: still lifes became cabinets of curiosities, featuring shells, insects, exotic fruits and flowers.

blog.php-769 Jacobus Biltius, attributed to, Trompe l'oiel Still Life with Birds

Artist Jacobus Biltius is known for his depictions of 'dead nature.' During the 17th century, hunting was a prestigious sport limited to the nobility. The appeal of hunting spread to the growing middle class thanks to the economic success of the Dutch tradesmen in Asia and the West Indies. Although not permitted to hunt, this class still wanted to be part of the action, so the trend for art depicting 'the hunt' became incredibly popular.

Biltius was known for his skill in capturing hunted animals: the fur of a hare, the plumes of birds and hunting horns.

blog.php-770 Simone del Tintore, Still Life with an Owl and a Pomegranate

Italian painter Simone del Tintor, 1630–1708, depicted decay in an entirely different manner to the Dutch painter. Rediscovered in the 1960s, his works evolved from natura morta to natura viva. His influence on his contemporaries is evident as his favoured motifs of wicker baskets adorned with fruit and mushrooms were replicated by his fellow artists.

Both works featured are in Lempertz sale on 21st September, 2016. Check out the full catalogue here.

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