Conte was born into an established Marseillaise family and is thought to have traveled to Rome as a young man. He moved to Paris in 1671 and was associated with artists at the Gobelins manufactory, where furnishings and tapestries were created for Louis XIV. Returning to Marseilles about 1675, Conte was named maître peintre des galères
and for some twenty years decorated the king’s ships and taught design to military personnel. At the same time, he executed meticulously rendered compositions for his private clientele in Provence.
In the late seventeenth century, the vogue for painting orfèvrerie was at its height and the present work exemplifies the precise arrangements and skillful play of light that set Conte apart. On a ledge, partially covered with a red velvet tapestry fringed in silver and gold, the artist arranged a profusion of objects. To the left is a coffer containing gold and amber jewelry and an ornate ceramic incense burner. In the center stands a covered vase topped with a tiny figure of Hercules. A sideboard dish ornamented with figures and garlands leans against a vermeil ewer embossed with the head of a fawn and figures from antiquity, a piece similar to an Italian ewer in the collection (17.190.2115
). In front, Conte placed the elegant pommel and waist strap of a sword surrounded by large exotic shells. The painting is one of two versions, the other belonging to the Musée de Saint-Étienne in southeastern France.
[Carol Santoleri 2013]