Analysis of Gerrit van Honthorst's Painting, Musical Group on a Balcony

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Analysis of Gerrit van Honthorst's Painting, Musical Group on a Balcony The Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst was known in Rome as Gherardo delle Notti (Gerard of the Night Scenes) for his striking use of a single light source to illuminate a dark scene. He was successful in bringing Caravaggio’s lighting techniques with him to the North, influencing many painters, including Rembrandt. But his painting “Musical Group on a Balcony” is a departure from his customarily dark depictions. This piece was the first Dutch illusionistic ceiling, which Honthorst painted for his own home in Utrecht. Honthorst’s use of perspective, bright yet simple composition, and lighthearted subject matter are representative of the pastoral life…show more content…
But Honthorst’s painting contrasts with both typical ceiling paintings and his own typically Biblical subject matter. As we gaze up toward heaven to look at the painting, we expect to see a Bible story; instead, our eyes are greeted by a merry pastoral scene depicting common people in the midst of a common activity. Unlike many of the paintings that Honthorst saw in Italy, its secular subject parodies the idea of heaven depicted in many ceiling paintings. Instead of looking up to see angels floating in the distant atmosphere, we see a host of ‘normal’ people. We are even invited to join them, and the simple balcony makes us feel that we need only climb upstairs in order to enjoy the same happiness. Seeing the painting up close also allowed me to observe the emotion on the faces of those in the painting. Every person present is either singing or playing an instrument. One of the lute players stares into the distance, lost in reverie, while the lady singing next to him moves her hand delightfully to the music. As the crowd sings along merrily, her dress slips off her shoulder and the wind gives us a glimpse of her red stockings, adding to the uninhibited and carefree nature of the gathering. The painting is only partially preserved and was most likely wider and possibly twice as long at the time of its composition, making for quite an illusion of merriment. One can imagine that whenever Honthorst stood under his

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