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Work Concert on a Balcony
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
The Concert Group
© 1997 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
The picture was meant to be hung above a mantelpiece, hence the figures (in old-fashioned theater costume) shown on a balcony. One of Honthorst's first paintings, it is in the neo-Italian and illusionist style that would prove so successful for him.
A joyous concert
Five women comfortably installed on a kind of stone balcony are giving a concert. Three singers are reading from sheet music while the two musicians accompanying them improvise the melody, as was customary at that time. The musician on the right is playing the lute, and the one on the left an archilute or bass lute, whose complex chords were greatly appreciated. The singers are gazing down at their scores, intently following their lyrics, while the two lute players are smiling fetchingly at the viewer. The boisterous musical exuberance of the two opulent, rosy-cheeked beauties is echoed by the picture's clear, bright colors.
Red damask curtains have been theatrically drawn to reveal the musicians. Their brightly colored clothes, which Honthorst borrowed from 16th-century Burgundian theatre as the Venetian painters had done, add to the overall gaiety. The scene is depicted very realistically in sotto, i.e seen from below. These artifices are designed to create a trompe-l'oeil opening above a fireplace. It is thought that this musicians' gallery, formerly in the stadtholder's collection, was part of a décor. The balustrade on which the lute player is sitting was probably a continuation of the mantelpiece, which would explain the upward looking viewpoint.
"Gerrit of the Night"?
Honthorst, who was born in Utrecht, spent around ten years in Rome, where he very probably saw works by Annibale Caracci, whose Bacchus and Ariadne (Palazzo Farnese) inspired the two graceful cherubs. But he was above all influenced by the Caravaggist painters, as were his fellow countrymen Ter Brugghen and Baburen. Honthorst retained Caravaggio's predilection for working class characters in theatrical costumes portrayed from the waist up. But here he abandons the somber palette which in Italy had earned him the nickname Gherardo della Notte (Gerrit of the Night) and plays on a chromatic scale of light, bright colors, setting the tone with electric blue and pale yellow and a few striking notes of bright red. This adaptation of the Caravaggio esthetic to a Nordic spirit and a fondness for musical subjects and ample-bodied beauties is typical of the "Utrecht Caravaggists".
BibliographyExposition, Paris, musée du Petit-Palais, 1970, Le Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970.
Albert Pomme de Mirimonde, "L'Accord retrouvé de Gerrit van Honthorst", La Revue des arts, 1960, 3, p. 105, pp. 109-116.
Gerrit van HONTHORST (Utrecht, 1590 - Utrecht, 1656)
The Concert Group
H. 1.68 m; W. 1.78 m
Painted in 1624 for Frederick Henry, prince of Orange, stadholder of the United Provinces: in 1632 in his Nordeinde Palace, in The Hague. Collection of William V of Orange, The Hague; transferred following the war between France and the United Provinces, 1795. Not taken back by the Netherlands in 1815
Holland, first half of the 17th century
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