Melody as metaphor in Gerrit van Honthorst's paintings of musicians

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Kearins, Colleen Mary

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In this thesis I examine the artistic contributions of Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656) to the sudden increase in the pictorial representation of musical subjects in Utrecht during the 1620s. Like his contemporaries, Honthorst was profoundly influenced by the complex and dramatic style of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) during his studies in Italy, and he adopted the new Italianate interpretation of realism and chiaroscuro in his painting technique by the time he returned to Utrecht in 1620. However, Honthorst employed a strategy of representation that combined painterly techniques from the milieu of Italian art with subjects and themes from Netherlandish tradition, resulting in an innovative category of genre painting that was both familiar and new to the contemporary viewer. Through an analysis of a representative sample of Honthorst’s paintings of musicians and their relation to contemporary Dutch trends and interests, I consider how his works resonated with the aesthetic tastes of Northern patrons. I argue for the presence in Honthorst’s paintings of musicians of elements from contemporary Dutch culture, such as literary conventions, artistic tradition, and customs of musical performance, and I examine the ways in which these commonalities in ideology appealed to Northern audiences.




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