National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ

Secular Subjects and Sinners

Caravaggio’s influence also extended to representations of secular scenes, his most imitated subjects being musicians and card players. The Lute Player, painted by Orazio Gentileschi during the second decade of the seventeenth century, shows a young woman playing, or perhaps tuning, a lute. The open music books and various instruments on the table suggest that a musical performance is about to begin, but the mood is one of quiet and poetic stillness. The solitary figure seems engrossed in her own music-making, her head inclined intently toward her lute. Her face and back are lit by a piercing light, which defines the texture of her crumpled shirt and draws attention to the open lacing of her loosened bodice. The identity of the woman is a mystery, but her disheveled dress suggests that this may be the scene of an amorous encounter, reminding us of the traditional association of music and love.

The atmosphere is far livelier in Valentin de Boulogne’s low-life scene, Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice (The Cheats) (c.1620/1622), which represents the trickery of a card sharp. The well-dressed young man at the left studies his cards carefully, completely unaware that the card sharp behind him signals his hand to his accomplice, the boy’s opponent. The artist has deftly captured the quick exchange of glances and gestures and at the same time expertly depicted the perils of vice, in this case gambling. Paintings of this type often illustrate the parable of the Prodigal Son, squandering his money and being duped by unsavory companions. Although Valentin’s picture is not biblical, this low-life scene still carries a moral message that would have been easily recognized in the age of the Counter-Reformation.

Brochure Images | Exhibition Information
Lost and Found | The Taking of Christ | Caravaggio and His Followers
The Counter-Reformation | The Penitent Sinner | Scenes of Martyrdom
Dreams and Visions | Secular Subjects and Sinners