HONTHORST, Gerrit van
(b. 1590, Utrecht, d. 1656, Utrecht)
Dutch painter (byname Gherardo della Notte), a leading member of the Utrecht school influenced by the Italian painter Caravaggio. He was born in Utrecht as the son of a textile painter. His younger brother Willem also became a painter. Van Honthorst was apprenticed to Abraham Bloemaert, the most celebrated master in Utrecht. He went to Italy around 1610-1615, when Caravaggio's influence there was at its height. In Italy, Van Honthorst acquired the nickname Gherardo delle Notti, because his figures are often portrayed in the darkness of night. He soon made a name for himself and received commissions from distinguished patrons such as Vincenzo Giustiniani and Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Notable works of his Italian sojourn include The Beheading of St John the Baptist (S. Maria delle Scala, Rome), Christ Before the High Priest (c. 1617, National Gallery, London), and the Supper Party (1620, Uffizi, Florence), all nocturnal scenes.
In 1620, Van Honthorst returned to Utrecht and married Sophia Coopmans in the same year. In 1622, he joined the Guild of St Luke in Utrecht. He was appointed dean of the guild in 1625 and remained in office for many years. In 1627, he bought a large house and used part of it as his workshop. Van Honthorst was much sought after as a teacher, and at one stage he was said to have approximately twenty-five pupils - roughly the same number as Rubens who, incidentally, paid a visit to his studio in 1627.
Van Honthorst's fame soon spread and in 1628 he was invited to work in London at the court of King Charles I. Although he returned to Utrecht before the year was out, he kept in touch with his acquaintances in England. Van Honthorst was also sought after in The Hague, where he received commissions from members of the House of Orange. He painted several portraits of Frederick Hendrik and Amalia van Solms, and worked on the decoration of their palaces. In connection with these projects in The Hague Van Honthorst joined the local painters' guild in 1637. He was invited to paint a portrait of the French Queen Maria de Medici on the occasion other visit to the city, and subsequently received commissions from the King of Denmark and the Elector Palatine of Brandenburg.
Honthorst accepted commissions for decorative cycles and painted at least one illusionistic ceiling, however, his most significant contribution to Dutch painting was his joint leadership, with Terbrugghen, of the Utrecht followers of Caravaggio. Rembrandt's use of Caravaggesque devices in his early works derives in large part from his knowledge of Honthorst's paintings. Honthorst's brother Willem van Honthorst (1594-1666), who was also an accomplished painter, sometimes worked with him.
Although he was one of the painters selected to contribute work for the Oranjezaal in Huis ten Bosch, his clients gradually became aware of his shortcomings. Van Honthorst's overwhelming success had brought him tremendous wealth and he lived in the lap of luxury. But his reputation as an artist was tarnished. He died in Utrecht in 1656 and was buried in the Catharijnekerk.