The Musicians (Caravaggio)
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|Type||Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||92 cm × 118.5 cm (36 in × 46.7 in)|
|Location||Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City|
Caravaggio entered the household of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte sometime in 1595. His biographer, the painter Baglione, says he "painted for the Cardinal youths playing music very well drawn from nature and also a youth playing a lute," the latter presumably being The Lute Player, which seems to form a companion-piece to The Musicians. The picture shows four boys in quasi-Classical costume, three playing various musical instruments or singing, the fourth dressed as Cupid and reaching towards a bunch of grapes.The central figure with the lute has been identified as Caravaggio's companion Mario Minniti, and the individual next to him and facing the viewer has been recognised as a self-portrait of the artist. The cupid bears a strong resemblance to the boy in Boy Peeling Fruit, done a few years before, and also to the angel in Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy.
Scenes showing musicians were a popular theme at the time - the Church was supporting a revival of music and new styles and forms were being tried, especially by educated and progressive prelates such as Del Monte. This scene, however, is clearly secular rather than religious. The manuscripts show that the boys are practicing madrigals celebrating love, and the eyes of the lutenist, the principal figure, are moist with tears—the songs presumably describe the sorrow of love rather than its pleasures. The violin in the foreground suggests a fifth participant, implicitly including the viewer in the tableau.
This was Caravaggio's most ambitious and complex composition to date, and the artist has evidently had difficulties with painting the four figures separately - they don't relate to each other or to the picture-space, and the overall effect is somewhat clumsy. The painting is in poor condition, and the music in the manuscript has been badly damaged by past restorations, although a tenor and an alto part can be made out. Nevertheless, it remains one of the artist's most popular pieces.
- Caravaggio A Life Sacred and Profane Andrew Graham-Dixonb
- A Caravaggio Rediscovered, The Lute Player, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on this painting (see cat. no. 3)