Together with Jusepe de Ribera, Valentin de Boulogne was the greatest exponent of caravaggism in Rome, where he spent virtually his entire career, establishing a reputation among collectors for his paintings of gamblers, fortune tellers, and musicians. The Met painting is unique in showing an individual lute player—as though isolated from one of his multi-figure compositions. The figure is in fancy dress—a soldier of fortune wearing his steel gorget—and is described in a number of inventories and sale catalogues as "Spanish" (see Provenance). The basis for this designation is mysterious, but it is known that when, in 1624, Valentin joined the Schildersbent, a group of mostly Dutch and Flemish painters active in Rome, he took as his sobriquet "Amador" (loosely translated from Spanish as "lover boy"). The subject of madrigals was invariably amatory and the association of music and love was commonplace in art (see Caravaggio’s Musicians
). This picture, which perhaps dates around 1626, may thus be self-referential. To judge from its illustrious provenance and the copies that are known, it enjoyed considerable fame. It is first listed in the celebrated collection of Cardinal Mazarin, who owned no fewer than nine works by the artist, a number of which were acquired by Louis XIV and are now in the Louvre, Paris. Whether the picture was known to Watteau (Mezzetin
) and Manet (The Spanish Singer
) cannot be said with certainty but is possible; in the nineteenth century Valentin’s caravaggesque realism was much admired.Observations by lutenist Christopher Morrongiello:
The six-line stave in the oblong music book on the table indicates that the lutenist is reading not from mensural notation but from tablature, a visual form of notation that tells the lutenist where to put his fingers on the instrument. It is similar to the way that guitar tablature is used today: the numbers (or letters) tell the player what frets to stop with the left-hand fingers. The six lines represent the six courses (or pairs of strings) that were commonly used on the lute. The lower courses were indicated by ledger lines. That being said, It is hard to determine if Valentin's lutenist is performing solo lute music or if he is accompanying himself singing since there is no music extant on the page that the lutenist bookmarked (literally). Although the majority of extant tablatures from the period are for solo lute, there are a few examples, especially in manuscripts for solo lute, in which the verses of songs (especially strophic songs) were written over the tablature lines, but without an autonomous melody in mensural notation. The lutenist would sing the melody he already knew while reading the verses and playing the tablature accompaniment. Sometimes the line to be sung was embedded in the tablature. This can be seen, for example, in the 1590s lutebook of Cavalcanti (Ms. II 275 Bibliotheque Royale Albert Ier Bruxelles). Whether or not the lutenist in the Valentin painting is playing solo lute music or accompanying himself singing, it is clear that he is reading from a book of lute tablature (probably in a manuscript), and not improvising an accompaniment or playing continuo from a single line (the bass line, for example) of mensural notation in a printed part book.
The way the lutenist is sitting with the bout or end clasp of the instrument near, or pressing against, the table edge is also noteworthy. There are several paintings of lutenists, especially those by Dutch painters, that depict lutenists clearly pressing the bouts of their instruments against tables, which would help support their instruments, making them less likely to slide out of their laps—the lute is a notoriously slippery instrument to hold. Pressing the lute against the table edge would also help increase the instrument's volume and sonority. Perhaps Valentin's lutenist is following in this tradition and using this technique of pressing the bout of his lute against the table edge. After all, the table was the center of the domestic musical world in the Renaissance and early Baroque periods. These observations lead one to wonder whether Valentin may have been a musician or lutenist as well as a painter. So many prominent artists of this time played the lute, and several of them depicted themselves playing on the instrument: the Carracci brothers, Artemisia Gentileschi, Jan Steen, and so on. Interestingly, there is a fantasie for bandora in the Biritish Library (Add. MS 31392) dating from ca. 1605, that is attributed to a "Maister Valentine." It appears among several fantasies by the Italian lutenist Alfonso Ferrabosco from Bologna and the opening point of imitation is based on one of Ferrabosco's fantasies. Also, there are several pieces in a little-known Italian manuscript in Trent (Biblioteca Comunale, MS 1947, no. 5), dated 1610–30 and attributed to one "V. B." There are no known concordances for these pieces.Copies after this work:
Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire, since at least 1688 (see Hugh Brigstocke and John Somerville, Italian Paintings from Burghley House
, Alexandria, Va., 1995, p. 163); Ugo Accoramboni, Rome, in 1694, as "Il Sonator di Leuto, di Monsù Valentino" (see Giulia De Marchi, "Stime di collezioni romane," Miscellanea della Società romana di storia patria
27 , p. 65); version sold Christie's, London, June 8, 1804, no. 32, and the same or another version sold European Museum, London, May 26, 1806, no. 1642; December 29, 1806, no. 1642; and May 3, 1808, no. 224; private collection, Brescia, in 1946 (see Brejon de Lavergnée and Cuzin 1973); version sold Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 4, 2007, no. 38 (ill., as by a follower of Valentin de Boulogne, 132 x 100 cm).
[Keith Christiansen 2016]
Cardinal Jules Mazarin, Palais Mazarin, Paris (by 1653–d. 1661; inv., 1653, no. 280; inv., 1661, no. 1109); Palais Mazarin, Paris (until at least 1714; inv., 1699–1714); ?Nicolas Beaujon, Paris (until d. 1786; his estate sale, Remy and Julliot, Paris, April 25, 1787, no. 89, as "Un Joueur de guitare assis," by Valentin, 4 pieds x 3 pieds 9 pouces [51 x 48 in.], for 300 livres to Boileau or Remy); ?sale, Paris, May 2, 1791, no. 115, as "Un homme assis, jouant de la guitare," by Valentin, 4 pieds x 3 pieds 3 pouces [51 x 41 in.], for 116 livres to Sollier for Remy; ?Pierre Rémy, Paris (from 1791); ?César-Louis-Marie Villeminot, Paris (until d. 1807; his estate sale, Paillet, Paris, May 25–29, 1807, no. 77, as ". . . le Portrait d'un Personnage dans le Costume Espagnol, et en pied, proportion de nature. Il est représenté assis, les Jambes croisées, coiffé d'une Toque relevée d'une Plume, et pinçant de la Guitare," by Valentin, 125 x 95 cm [49 x 37 in.], for Fr 381 to Paule or Paillet); ?[Alexandre-Joseph Paillet, Paris, from 1807]; ?Ennio Quirino Visconti, Paris (until d. 1818); ?his son, Louis-Tullius-Joachim Visconti, Paris (1818–d. 1853); his daughter, Victorine Mathilde Visconti and her husband, Eugène marquis Dodun de Keroman (by 1864–her d. 1884); their daughter, Marie Sophie Dodun de Keroman and her husband, Ernest Frédéric van den Broek d'Obrenan (1884–her d. 1909); their son, Frantz John Eugène Ernest van den Broek d'Obrenan (1909–d. 1944); his son, Charles Ernest William Frantz van den Broek d'Obrenan (1944–d. 1956); private collection (1956–2008; sold to MMA)
Inventaire de tous les meubles du cardinal Mazarin, 1653. 1653, no. 280 [Bibliothèque du château de Chantilly, MS 1294; published in "Inventaire de tous les meubles du Cardinal Mazarin," London, 1861, p. 326], as "Un soldat assis qui joue du luth sur toille d'empereur, sa bordure dorée. Valentino".
Inventaire dressé après la mort du cardinal Mazarin. 1661, no. 1109 [Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Département des manuscrits, Mélanges Colbert 75; published in Gabriel-Jules de Cosnac, "Les richesses du Palais Mazarin," 2nd ed., Paris, 1885, p. 319], as "Un autre faict par Vallentin, sur toille, représentant un 'Soldat assis qui joue du luth,' hault de quatre piedz et large de trois piedz deux poulces, garny de sa bordure de bois doré, prisé la somme de cinq cens livres tournois, cy".
Théodore Lejeune. Guide théorique et pratique de l'amateur de tableaux. Vol. 1, Paris, 1864, p. 159, lists it in the collection of the marquis Dodun de Keroman with an estimate of 1,000 francs; lists separately the work included in the Villeminot sale of 1807.
Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée and Jean-Pierre Cuzin. I caravaggeschi francesi. Exh. cat., Villa Medici. Rome, , pp. 156–57, no. 47, ill. [French ed., "Valentin et les caravagesques français," Grand Palais, Paris, 1974, pp. 162–63, no. 50, ill.], call this the original version, based on quality and on the pentimenti, and mention two old copies: one belonging to the marquis of Exeter, Burghley House, and the other in a private collection, Brescia, in 1946; note that the composition, with an almost full-length single figure, is unusual for Valentin; see a Venetian quality in the work, comparing it with musicians by Giorgione and Cariani and with a similarly Venetian "Laurel-crowned Flutist" by Valentin, noting that Longhi dates the latter work late in the artist's career and adding that the style of the Lute Player does not contradict a late dating [Roberto Longhi, "A propos de Valentin," La Revue des arts 8 (March–April 1958), p. 66, fig. 5]; wonder if this may be the work included in the 1661 inventory of the collection of Cardinal Mazarin; note that there is an oral tradition in the family of the current owner that the work came from the Visconti collection.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. "Pour Valentin." Revue de l'art no. 28 (1975), p. 60, mentions it as probably a late work.
Benedict Nicolson. The International Caravaggesque Movement. Oxford, 1979, p. 105 [2nd ed., rev. and enl. by Luisa Vertova, "Caravaggism in Europe," Turin, 1989, vol. 1, p. 204; vol. 2, pl. 697], calls it badly preserved.
Christopher Wright. The French Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Boston, 1985, p. 268.
Robert B. Simon. Important Old Master Paintings: Discoveries . . . "in una nuova luce". Exh. cat., Piero Corsini, Inc. New York, 1988, p. 90, fig. 7, under no. 16, as in a private collection, Paris; relates it to Valentin's "Apollo Disguised as a Shepherd" (called "Laurel-crowned Flutist" in Brejon de Lavergnée and Cuzin 1973), believing that the two works date from the same undetermined period and depict the same model.
Marina Mojana. Valentin de Boulogne. Milan, 1989, pp. 29, 124–25, no. 36, ill. (color), dates it about 1626; refers to the figure as a young soldier dressed "alla spagnola"; mentions a work of this subject by Valentin recorded in the collection of Ugo Accoramboni, Rome, in 1694.
Patrick Michel. Mazarin, prince des collectionneurs: les collections et l'ameublement du Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661), histoire et analyse. Paris, 1999, pp. 387, 409 n. 157, pp. 586–87, identifies it as the work recorded in the Mazarin collection; lists it as still located in the Grande Salle d'Entrée of the Palais Mazarin in 1714 [an inventory of the Palais Mazarin was conducted between 1699 and 1714; see "Sources," p. 638].
Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 34, fig. 46 (color).
Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2008–2010." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Fall 2010), p. 30, ill. (color) and ill. on cover (color detail).
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Figures de la réalité: Caravagesques français, Georges de La Tour, les frères Le Nain . . . [Paris], 2010, pp. 101, 167.
Michael Fried in David Franklin and Sebastian Schütze. Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 2011, p. 119, fig. 47 (color), mentions it as an example of "an 'excessive' mode of embodied subjectivity".
Keith Christiansen. "La création tardive d'une collection de peintures baroques au Metropolitan Museum of Art / Creating a Baroque Collection at the Metropolitan Late in the Game." Aux origines d'un goût: la peinture baroque aux États-Unis / Creating the Taste for Baroque Painting in America. Paris, 2015, pp. 66, 71.
Keith Christiansen. "Connecting with the so-called 'Old Masters'." Colnaghi, Past, Present and Future: An Anthology. Ed. Tim Warner-Johnson and Jeremy Howard. London, 2016, p. 272, fig. 1 (color).
Michael Fried. After Caravaggio. New Haven, 2016, pp. 40, 42, 80, 106, 199–200 n. 16, fig. 36 (color), discusses the crossed legs and leggings or tights in terms of what he calls "auto-affection," a tactile consciousness of one's own body.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 282–83, no. 214, ill. pp. 211, 283 (color).
Keith Christiansen in Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2016, pp. 53, 162–64, no. 30, ill. (color) [French ed., "Valentin de Boulogne: Réinventer Caravage," Paris, 2017, pp. 61–62, 171–73, no. 30, ill. (color)].
Annick Lemoine in Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2016, pp. 10, 59, 237 n. 66, p. 246 n. 20 [French ed., "Valentin de Boulogne: Réinventer Caravage," Paris, 2017, pp. 9, 12, 20 n. 67, p. 75 n. 19, p. 204].
Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée. "Valentin de Boulogne." Burlington Magazine 159 (August 2017), p. 661.