The Singing Lute Player, a captivating work by Hendrick ter Brugghen, is an embodiment of the Utrecht Caravaggisti’s innovative approach to painting upon their return from Italy around 1620. Ter Brugghen, along with his contemporaries Gerrit van Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen, was influenced by the dramatic chiaroscuro and realistic biblical storytelling characteristic of Caravaggio’s art. This influence is evident in Ter Brugghen’s portrayal of single, half-length musicians, a motif that became synonymous with the Utrecht school of painting.
Created circa 1624, The Singing Lute Player features a man who accompanies himself on the lute while gazing out at the viewer with a lively and open expression. The painting’s rich and beautifully preserved color palette, with striking contrasts of black, red, blue, yellow, and bright white, enhances the visual appeal of the subject’s flamboyant costume, complete with a feathered beret and puffed-sleeve shirt. Such attire was not meant for everyday wear but rather served to distance the figure from the mundane, lending the scene an exotic or fantastical quality.
While the lute may symbolize love, as it was considered the perfect wooing instrument since the Middle Ages, there are no explicit elements in the painting that point directly to this interpretation. The painting is known to exist in multiple versions, with the autograph replica housed in the National Gallery in London, identified by the signature “HTBrugghen fecit 1624.” The popularity of Ter Brugghen’s musician figures led to several replicas, some by his own hand and others by members of his workshop.
The Kremer Collection, founded by George and Ilone Kremer in 1994, proudly includes The Singing Lute Player among its privately owned Dutch and Flemish 17th-century artworks. The collection itself boasts masterpieces from renowned artists such as Rembrandt and Frans Hals.
The Singing Lute Player stands as a testament to Ter Brugghen’s mastery of color, light, and composition, capturing the essence of the Utrecht Caravaggisti’s revolutionary impact on northern Netherlandish painting.