Willem van Aelst’s hunting still life is notable for its faithful depiction of nature and the strikingly illusionistic treatment of the different bits of equipment – among them falcon hoods, a hunting horn and a velvet pouch – and the quarry itself, a partridge strung up by one leg and hanging head down, its soft grey plumage rendered with great naturalism.
The fly, which has momentarily settled on it, is a symbol of transience. Like the shimmer of the fly’s wings, the texture of the soft velvet, the roughness of the leather and the smooth surface of the metal are rendered with such virtuoso skill that the viewer gets a sense of almost being able to touch them. The painting gave the Netherlandish artist ample scope to display his skill as a ‘fine’ painter (fijnschilder).
This sophisticated style of painting was highly prized by Ferdinand II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, at whose Florentine court he worked from 1649 to 1656, and by Caroline Louise, Margravine of Baden, who acquired the painting nearly a century after its completion. Her art collection laid the foundation for the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe.