(b. 1563, Pisa, d. 1639, London)

Lute Player

c. 1626
Oil on canvas, 144 x 130 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Of all the major followers of Caravaggio in Italy, Gentileschi is surely the strongest personality. Yet it was not so much the tenebroso and the dramatic handling of light in the middle and later period of the Lombard artists, but the clear and cool colority of Caravaggio's early work that he has taken up and adopted with great originality.

The Lute Player, produced around the time of his emigration to England, is one of Gentileschi's most famous works. A young girl in a lemon-yellow dress is seated with her back to the spectator at a table on which a violin, a shawm and two music scores are lying. Listening intently, the girl has lifted the lute to her ear, and is concentrating her entire attention on the chord that the fingers of her left hand are strumming on the broad body of the instrument.

It is not easy to interpret this painting, particularly as it was created in a period when allegorical messages tended to be conveyed through seemingly everyday genre scenes. The fact that she is listening so intently would certainly suggest an allegory of hearing, but it is just as possible that this is intended as a portrayal of Harmonia, the pleasing combination of different parts, as suggested by the nineteen strings of the double lute the girl is playing.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.