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

The roots of natura morta - still life which depicts decaying fruit and dead animals - also finds its roots in Rome, as it was tradition to feature skulls in paintings as a reminder of the equality found in death. Hundreds of years later, the Dutch painters of the 1600s portrayed the human obsession with the macabre.

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

Jacobus Biltius, attributed to, Trompe l'oiel Still Life with Birds 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 for the nobility to enjoy only. As the middle class grew thanks to the economic success of the Dutch tradesmen in Asia and the West Indies, this new class found a fondness for hunting. Although not permitted to hunt, the middle classes 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.

Simone del Tintore, Still Life with an Owl and a Pomegranate Simone del Tintore, Still Life with an Owl and a Pomegranate

Italian painter Simone del Tintor, 1630–1708, portrayed decay in an entirely different manner to Biltius. 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 September 21, 2016. Check out the full catalog here.

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