Born in Bergamo in 1617 to a family of several generations of artists, Baschenis was previously remembered as living the provincial life of a priest and painter. We now know, however, that Baschenis traveled to Rome and elsewhere, and was involved with a large circle of artists, and had important patrons in Venice, Milan, and Mantua. From the moment he established an independent workshop in 1643, he dedicated himself to painting still lifes. Indeed, almost without exception, he restricted himself to two themes: kitchen scenes with foodstuffs and utensils, and musical instruments. He was probably drawn to still life because of its importance in Lombardy, where artists beginning with Caravaggio had created masterpieces in the genre.
Baschenis became widely known for the painting of musical instruments, single-handedly inventing a genre that was to flourish in the hands of followers into the following century. The paintings of musical instruments—which Baschenis refined to an unparalleled level of accomplishment—enjoyed wide popularity and were highly prized by the aristocratic families who were his patrons. In these circles music, associated with poetry, literature, and history, was regarded as a particularly cultivated form of entertainment.
During his lifetime Baschenis, himself a musician, amassed an impressive collection of instruments and musical scores. The artist would arrange these into carefully choreographed, highly geometrical compositions for his paintings, presenting novel and daringly foreshortened views of the instruments. Having studied with an expert in architectural perspective, known as quadratura painting, Baschenis was fascinated by the study of perspective and challenged by the depiction of lutes and violins, with their curved and irregular forms. The subtle variations between each painting suggest that Baschenis considered his works almost as musical inventions, with ever-changing rhythms and ornament. His finest paintings are imbued with an air of silence and time arrested, as the instruments—sometimes covered by a layer of dust—lie scattered on a table in a quiet angle of a room.