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Still life with ram's head

Willem van Aelst (Delft 1626-27 – Amsterdam post 1683)

Putti Room
Oil on canvas
125.5 x 99.5 cm
1912 n. 454

The painting is signed in the bottom left by the Dutch painter “WV” and it is dated 1652.

This vivid still life was part of the collection of Cardinal Giovan Carlo de’ Medici (brother of grand duke Ferdinando II), who had amassed a significant number of paintings in his residence, including thirteen works by Willem van Aelst, known then as “The Dutchman”. Van Aelst spent a few years in Florence, from 1649, and left a large number of his works there, especially the still life paintings, a genre in which he was specialised and also greatly appreciated, including by other members of the Medici family, such as Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici, a famous and avid collector, who bought numerous pieces for his own collection. 

The setting for this still life is very theatrical and carefully studied: on a solid wooden counter, in the half shadow of a domestic setting, we have artichokes, grapes, two citrons and in the centre, an impressive ram’s head, eyes half closed, and resting on its own fleece; in the background, a cherry branch stands out from a wicker basket, while on the left, hanging from a hook, some game birds, an onion, and some offal.

The painstaking portrayal, glossy painting and brilliant colours, which stand out against the dark tones, are typical of the style of van Aelst, one of the most popular artists in Europe of the period. In the same room of the Palatine Gallery, is the companion piece to this one: a Game and hunting tools (inv. 1912 no. 466).

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