This head and shoulders portrait is an outstanding example of the breadth, force and beauty of this artist’s pictorial manner and abilities. This captivating portrait features a musician holding his recorder, dressed in a dark robe and feathered cap. The recorder appears to be a five-hole Alto Recorder in F-sharp, a popular choice with musicians around the middle of the 18th century.
The man appears to have been playing this instrument just moments before but now has removed it from his lips. One could interpret this position as the man taking a breath between musical bars. However, given the distance between the recorder and the subject’s mouth, as well as the wide-eyed gaze that he casts to his left, it is more likely that the sitter has been unexpectedly interrupted.
This dark-shadowed flute player with a brightly lit face acts as a wonderful example of the use of Chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro, an Italian term which literally means ‘light-dark’, refers to the dramatic tonal shifts, as seen in this painting, that suggests the modelling and volume of subjects depicted. Here the subtle tonal grading of the body and dress give the figure materiality and three-dimensionality.
Henderick ter Brugghen
(1588 – 1629)
Ter Brugghen was, with Honthorst and Baburen, one of the main Dutch followers of the Italian artist Caravaggio. His family settled in Utrecht, probably in about 1591, where he was a pupil of Abraham Bloemaert. He travelled to Rome in about 1604, within the lifetime of Caravaggio, and remained there until 1614. By 1615 he had returned to Utrecht, where he died in 1629.
Ter Brugghen was the first important painter influenced by Caravaggio to return to Holland. He developed a highly personal style characterised by a soft handling of paint and pale vibrant colouring. He sometimes painted dark figures against a light background, which may have influenced such painters as Vermeer and Fabritius.
His subject matter covered religious, mythological and literary themes, together with representations of picturesque figures, often in domestic settings. His first dated painting is of 1620.