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The Lute Player
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wbillingsley's picture

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This painting by Orazio Gentileschi is one of many homages to his favorite artist, Caravaggio.

The Lute Player has the same name as one of the older artist's paintings, as well as the same set-up, with a musician holding a lute while sitting before a collection of instruments, the most prominent of which is a violin. While taken in the strictly visual sense this painting is nothing more than a tasteful slice-of-life image. However when viewed through a music history context it is actually a lot more dramatic.

See, this painting, as well as its inspiration, were done during the heyday of the lute. In the 17th century, master lute makers from Germany, driven out of their country by guild regulations on the lute industry, spread far and wide across Europe. With them came standardization of the instrument. Moreover, these far-flung lute makers came across new and luxurious materials that they could work into their instruments to give them that little something extra. Sure enough, you can see this broad popularity in how often the lute appears in art. Appearing here in an Italian painting, and again in a Dutch painting from the same time period.

Meanwhile, during this same era, a hot new musical tool of wood and string was jumping onto the scene in Italy. The violin was immediately received well by the musical public, and deemed essential by 1650. While it was not as widely known as the lute, the violin was enjoying a popularity that no other instrument has received before, save for perhaps when the first cave man smashed a stick against some leather and invented the drums.

The two would cohabit the music scene for a number of years until the late 18th century. During this time, another fanciful new invention was about to come on the scene, one of a mechanical nature. The keyboard was what dealt the final blow to the lute. The long time favorite instrument of Europe had been on the decline and in the end, people claimed that the lute was too hard to maintain, while quietly ignoring the fact that the violin was in need of silver coated strings.

While the lute is being lovingly cradled in the arms of this musician, it would ultimately be only a matter of time before it was abandoned for its four-stringed cousin.

Sources

Sources

  1. Bouquet, Jonathan Santa Maria “The Lute” The Met April 2010 https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/lute/hd_lute.htm
  2. Web Contributor “Orazio Gentileschi” The National Gallery vewied on 01/10/2020 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/orazio-gentileschi
  3. Web Contributor “Violin - History” Vienna Symphonic Library viewed on 01/10/2020 https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Violin/History

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about The Lute Player (Orazio Gentileschi)

The Lute Player is a painting from c. 1612–1615 by the Italian artist Orazio Gentileschi (1563–1639) depicting a young woman in a golden dress with a lute.

Background

Gentileschi came into contact with the Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) during Gentileschi's early 1600s Rome period. He adopted Caravaggio's method of painting from life using dramatic lighting and is considered one of the leading Caravaggisti. Nevertheless, he developed his own lyrical manner using soft, subdued tones.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Lute Player (Orazio Gentileschi).