Around 1620 the still life is a recent genre, ever disdained by the great masters as a self-standing theme but increasingly inserted in ambitious paintings.
Guercino tries in that period the theme of the passage of time. In an oil on canvas painted circa 1618, two herdsmen look at an over-sized skull in an advanced decay, placed on a base on which the phrase Et in Arcadia ego is written. In this outdoor scene, the contrasts of lights are inspired by the art of Caravaggio.
On May 1 in New York, Christie's sells an oil on canvas 31 x 39 cm, lot 20 estimated $ 2M. The skull with same damaged teeth as on Et in Arcadia ego is the central element of this tabletop lighted in front of a black background. It is laid flat on an old rotten book, between two vases of flowers in which some roses are symbolizing the brevity of life. An hourglass completes the memento mori.
In Guercino's work, it is the only painting whose theme is limited to a still life. It was probably prepared circa 1620 to be used as a modello.
This date is plausible. In February 1621 the archbishop of Bologna becomes pope. Guercino follows his patron to Rome. Very busy with frescoes, the young artist can now devote himself to his ambition of great religious compositions for which a Vanitas is no longer useful to him.
It is one of four lots from the Feiger collection which are discussed in the video shared by the auction house.
SOLD for $ 2.4M including premium