All That Glistens

Giuseppe Maria Crespi
Bologna 1665 – 1747
Lute Player
oil on copper
8 ¾ x 6 ¾ inches
22.4 x 17 cm

Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665 –1747) for today’s taste is one of the most the most attractive and beguiling artists of the Bolognese school, and his poignant scenes of everyday life are sometimes compared Chardin. Although he painted mythologies, altarpieces and religious works (e.g., The Seven Sacraments, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, inv. 395), and worked on fresco decorations, he is most appreciated for his genre paintings which tap into the realist tradition established in Bologna by the Carracci as well as the Bamboccianti group of Dutch and Flemish genre painters in Rome. What distinguishes Crespi is his mastery of soft chiaroscuro, derived from venetian painting as well as the earlier work of the celebrated Bolognese baroque painter Guercino, which he uses to convey a sense of intimacy appropriate to his quotidian subject matter. In this respect he forms a direct precedent for the genre scenes of the venetian painter Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and eighteenth-century venetian genre painting in general.

As Mira Pajes Merriman points out the figure in the present work occurs elsewhere in Crespi’s paintings and drawings, for example in another more upright lute player in the State art museum, Nizgny Novgorod in Russia. Crespi’s most famous lute player is the young lady in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where the subject’s right ear is emphasized to convey her concentration as she tunes her instrument (fig. 1). Bologna, then and now, was an important music center, confirmed by the foundation of the Accademia Filarmonica in 1666. Mozart studied there in 1770, and the celebrated castrato singer Farinelli moved to Bologna in 1732.

Fig. 1 Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Woman Tuning a Lute, ca. 1700-05 © Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 69.958

The present work has Crespi’s typical painterly handling which in this case ultimately derives from the later work of Titian in Venice, a city Crespi had visited. The mysterious stormy atmosphere is also north Italian and recalls the sixteenth century Ferrarese school, for example the Apollo as a Musician with Daphne by Dosso Dossi in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. The rapt gaze of the boy to the left is particularly striking as is the intensity of the lute player as he braces himself to play. Both figures are young or youngish, adding a didactic message that mastery of a musical instrument is best undertaken at an early age. ❖

Private collection, Paris

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