A young man with a lute by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

A young man with a lute by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

“A young man with a lute” was written for Cardinal Francesco del Monte, who patronized the artist. Caravaggio portrayed a young man, absorbed in music: his look is full of inspiration, fingers fingering the strings. The objects placed in the picture testify to the painter’s great love for the surrounding world, his desire to truthfully reproduce nature, to convey the material quality of each thing. On the note-book lying in front of the lute player, the initial notes of the popular in the XVI century madrigal “You know that I love you” are inscribed.

The picture “A young man with a lute” is one of the first works of Caravaggio, in which the method of light and shadow contrast was used, which later became the main expressive means of the artist and borrowed by many of his followers. Light and shadow not only shape molds, making them embossed, revealing the volume of the body and various objects, but also focus on the main thing. Carefully studying nature, Caravaggio comprehended the effect of interference of illuminated objects.

So, in the Hermitage painting, he passed a reflex that fell on the young man’s cheek from his brightly lit shoulder; made a light and transparent shadow on the back of the lute, as it falls on the reflection of the white pages of the notebook. It is interesting to note that the inscription on the second notebook of notes, which was previously read as “Bassus”, is now deciphered as “Gallus”. Gallus is the name of a Milanese musician, Caravaggio’s friend. Some argue that the “Young man with the lute” is a portrait of Gallus.

However, the type of young man in the Hermitage painting is similar to that found in many of the artist’s early works: curly hair, a soft oval face, brilliant dark eyes, sharply outlined eyebrows. Most likely, the pictures do not depict any particular person, but give a generalized image.

In the early days of creativity, Caravaggio often gave young people a few feminine traits, which, incidentally, was characteristic of all Italian art of the late 16th century. The musician in the Hermitage painting was mistaken for a musician and the composition was called “Lutnistka”. It is known that from the collection of Cardinal del Monte the painting passed to the Marquis of Giustiniani, from whose collection in 1808 it was bought for the Hermitage.

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