Baschenis was born to a family of artists, who worked throughout Lombardy, North of the Italy. Evaristo, who came to specialize in still lifes, especially compositions featuring musical instruments, was undoubtedly influenced by works readily available to him in Lombard collections. In the 1640s his style was further enriched by a visit to Venice. It would hardly be an exaggeration to state that Venice was then the centre of musical activity in Europe, both in terms of performance and the publication of music partitions, which could have encouraged his preferred specialization.
Not inappropriately for an artist based in Bergamo, his compositions reflect a confluence of Northern Italian and Dutch still-life traditions. Baschenis was also a master of perspective and used this talent to great effect, contrasting brilliantly lit elements, like the lutes here, against darker settings. While musical instruments and scores in still lifes of the period generally alluded to vanitas considerations of mortality, the passage of time and pleasure, or adages regarding music and love or music and calming spirits, in Baschenis’s oeuvre many musical still lifes reflect a genuine specialization and enjoyment in the realistic depiction of the instruments themselves. The delightful and masterly composition of this painting is also animated by the diagonal of the beribboned hand harp resting on the lute and the diagonal thrust of the music score. The painting nonetheless retains vanitas elements, notably the broken harp strings and the shadow over the back of the mandolin behind the forward lute. The apple may allude to original sin, but its location and colours have also been carefully selected to bring together the diverse elements of the composition: the drapery and various instruments. It is worth noting that Baschenis was a contemporary of the great violin-maker Nicolò Amati (1596-1684) of Cremona, near Bergamo, who defined the contours of the modern instrument and taught both Antonio Stradivari and Andrea Guarneri.