Hendrick ter Brugghen excelled at capturing the rhythms of music in the very way he composed his paintings. In this remarkable image a bagpipe player, seen in strict profile, squeezes the leather bag between his forearms as he blows through the instrument’s pipe and fingers a tune on the chanter. Two large drones, composed of different wooden sections, rest on his bare shoulder. The interlocking rhythms of this ensemble—the broad, round shapes of the musician’s shoulder, beret, and brown bagpipe bag; the flowing patterns of folds in his creamy shirt and taupe robe; the pronounced diagonals of the drones and pipe; and the verticality of the chanter—parallel those of a musical score. Ter Brugghen’s Bagpipe Player should be seen as part of a broad cultural interest in depictions of the idyllic pleasures of country existence, particularly as experienced through music. Ter Brugghen fully embraced this theme in a series of paintings of musicians and singers that capture both the joy and the sensuality of life.
The specific character of this painting, depicting a single, larger-than-life-size musician against a plain grayish ocher background, owes much to the influence of Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656) and Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595–1624), Dutch Caravaggist painters who returned to Utrecht from Rome in 1620. They brought with them a new sensuous style appropriate for expressing the idealized concepts of arcadian subject matter that they adapted from paintings by Caravaggio (1571–1610) and his followers. In 1624 Ter Brugghen painted no fewer than five separate compositions devoted to music, featuring not only bagpipe players but also musicians—sometimes singing—who play the lute and the violin. He continued this interest in the years to follow.
Hendrick ter Brugghen was unparalleled in capturing the rhythms of music, and he did so in the very way he composed his paintings.
I would like to thank Wayne Franits for his thoughtful comments on this entry.
Though muted in tonality, the Bagpipe Player is both bold and forceful in its scale and painting techniques. The musician’s larger-than-life-size form fills the picture plane, his passion for his music reflected in the energy of Ter Brugghen’s sure, broad brushstrokes, which flow across the canvas. The numerous adjustments the artist made in the folds of the shirt and robe, as well as in the shape of the bagpipes, indicate the freedom with which he approached his subject.
See the Technical Summary of this painting.
The bagpipe player is a muscular, rough-hewn type, hardly an ideal of grace and refinement. His head is large, his nose is round, and he sports a shepherd’s mustache and beard. His hands and knuckles are thick, yet from the manner in which he fingers the chanter, leaving the vent hole uncovered, it is clear that he is adept at playing the instrument. The same feeling is evoked in a second depiction of the bagpipe player, also dated 1624
For the history of bagpipes, see Emanuel Winternitz, Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art: Studies in Musical Iconology, 2nd ed. (New Haven and London, 1979), 78, 80; and Anthony Baines, Bagpipes, ed. T. K. Penniman and B. M. Blackwood, 3rd ed. by H. T. La Rue (Oxford, 1995), 17, 115–117, fig. 72. I would like to thank Joel Robinson, maker of bagpipes, for his thoughtful observations about the instrument depicted in this painting and the portrayal of the bagpipe player.
Bagpipes were traditionally viewed as folk instruments, played at country dances or by herdsmen and shepherds whiling away their time. These types of portrayals were common throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, appearing in the works of
Bagpipes often had negative associations: in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century prints they were frequently associated with fools and given sexual connotations. See, in particular, Marcus Dekiert, Musikanten in der Malerei der niederländischen Caravaggio-Nachfolge: Vorstufen, Ikonographie und Bedeutungsgehalt der Musikszene in der niederländischen Bildkunst des 16. und 17. Jarhunderts (Münster, 2003), 214–220. Nevertheless, bagpipes were also included in sixteenth-century images of musical ensembles that had positive overtones. For example,
Bagpipes were often included in these odes to pastoral life, which may help explain the appeal of paintings of musicians for aristocratic patrons during the early to mid-seventeenth century.
Emanuel Winternitz, Musical Instruments and Their Symbolism in Western Art: Studies in Musical Iconology, 2nd ed. (New Haven and London, 1979), 78, 80.
Daniel Heinsius, “Pastorael,” in Nederduytsche poemata (Amsterdam, 1616), 34–36. “Oock heb ick veel vreucht bedreven, / En mijn lullepijp gestalt / Naer de deunen van het veldt.”
See Alison McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia: Pastoral Art and Its Audience in the Golden Age (Totowa, NJ, 1983), especially 101–113.
See Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Susan J. Barnes, and Julius S. Held, Anthony van Dyck (Washington, DC, 1990), 304, no. 81.
The specific character of Bagpipe Player—a single, larger-than-life-sized musician shown against a plain grayish ocher background—owes much to the influence of
Marten Jan Bok, “On the Origins of the Flute Player in Utrecht Caravaggesque Painting,” in Hendrick ter Brugghen und die Nachfolger Caravaggios in Holland, ed. Rüdiger Klessmann, (Braunschweig, 1988), 135–141. As Bok notes, the painting, which has been attributed to both Titian and Giorgione, is probably: Attributed to Titian, A Boy with a Pipe, London, Hampton Court (see his fig. 183).
Even though Ter Brugghen had been in Italy earlier and presumably had seen some of Caravaggio’s paintings of musicians, these additional pictorial sources probably inspired his initial foray into this subject matter in 1621, when he painted the Flute Player and the Shepherd Flute Player, both now in Kassel.
Leonard J. Slatkes and Wayne E. Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1588–1629: Catalogue Raisonné (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007), 176–177, nos. A61–A62, argue that the paintings are pendants “with antithetical types rather than two young musicians playing in harmony.”
Leonard J. Slatkes and Wayne E. Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1588–1629: Catalogue Raisonné (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007), nos. A63–A72, RA2, W16.
Ter Brugghen’s interest in depicting musicians, including bagpipe players, was matched by
In the collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, Texas. The painting, which measures 89.3 x 83.2 cm, has been trimmed on all sides. See Leonard J. Slatkes and Wayne E. Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1588–1629: Catalogue Raisonné (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007), 187, nos. W16, RA2.
Similarities in subject matter, style, and size among the canvases have led to the supposition that Ter Brugghen conceived of a number of these paintings as pendants. Indeed, Leonard Slatkes has proposed that the Bagpipe Player has a pendant, the so-called Pointing Lute Player
Slatkes proposed this pendant relationship in Albert Blankert et al., Nieuw Licht op de Gouden Eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten (Utrecht, 1986), under no. 15; and in “Bringing Ter Brugghen and Baburen Up-to-Date,” Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie 37 (1996): 210–213.
Leonard J. Slatkes and Wayne E. Franits, The Paintings of Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1588–1629: Catalogue Raisonné (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007), 184–188, nos. A70–A72, RA2, W16.
For the implications of the pointing gesture, see Albert Blankert, “Heraclitus en Democritus: in het bijzonder in de Nederlands kunst van de zeventiende eeuw,” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 18 (1967): 56–57.
Even though wind instruments were indeed considered to be less refined and elegant than string instruments
In the emblem by Claes Jansz. Visscher, “Niet hoe veel, maer hoe eel” (Not how many, but how fine), which appears in Roemer Visscher, Zinne-Poppen (Amsterdam, 1614), a single lute stands in contrast to an array of wind instruments, including a bagpipe.
Significantly, the Bagpipe Player has at least one extant workshop replica, and originally had at least two, yet no other version of the Pointing Lute Player exists. If thematic connections between the works were crucial to their conceptual underpinnings, one would expect that the various versions of the Bagpipe Player would also have had pendants. Indeed, in the only seventeenth-century reference to a Ter Brugghen Bagpipe Player, the painting did not have a pendant. See the inventory of Aernout van Lingen, “raad in de Vroedshap,” which was made in Utrecht in 1676 and lists: “Een saakpijp van Ter Brugghen.” The inventory, first published by Marten Jan Bok (“Hendrick Jansz. ter Brugghen,” in Albert Blankert et al., Nieuw licht op de gouden eeuw: Hendrick ter Brugghen en tijdgenoten [Utrecht, 1986], 71), is in the Gemeentearchief Utrecht, Stadsarchief II, inv. no. 3146, 1676.
Ter Brugghen’s Bagpipe Player, thus, should be seen as part of a broad cultural interest in the pastoral during the early seventeenth century that evoked the idyllic pleasures of country existence, particularly as experienced through music. Ter Brugghen fully embraced this theme in a series of remarkable paintings of musicians and singers that capture both the joy and the sensuality of life. As with this masterpiece, these engaging images invite us into a world where, through the boldness of the artist’s brush and the rhythms of his forms, we feel the enduring power of music on the human spirit.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
upper right, in brown paint, HTB in monogram: HTBrugghen fecit 1624
Possibly Aernout van Lingen, Utrecht, by 1676. probably with (Glenz, Berlin), in 1915; possibly Gustav Klemperer Edler von Klemenau [1852-1926], Dresden; his son, Dr. Herbert von Klemperer [1878-1951], Berlin; (sale, Lange, Berlin, 18-19 November 1938, no. 151); acquired by Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, inv. no. 2613; restituted July 2008 to Klemperer's heirs; (sale, Sotheby's, New York, 9 January 2009, no. 40); (Johnny Van Haeften London Ltd., London; Otto Naumann, New York; Bernheimer Fine Art Ltd., Munich); purchased April 2009 by NGA.
- Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1984, no. 24, pl. 9 (shown only in Philadelphia and Berlin).
- Dipingere la musica: strumenti in posa nell'arte del cinque e seicento, Santa Maria della Pietà, Cremona; Kunsthistorisches Museum at Palais Harrach, Vienna, 2000, no. I.22, repro.
- Larger than Life: Ter Brugghen's Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2011, no catalogue.
The painting was executed on a plain, open-weave fabric, which has been lined. Paper tape covers the edges, making it difficult to determine if the tacking margins are intact, but cusping along all four sides indicates that the painting probably retains its original dimensions. The ground is a fairly thick red layer with large pigment particles. Ter Brugghen applied the oil paint directly, mostly using a wet-into-wet technique. The paint is fairly thin in the background but it is much thicker in the lighter areas and the drapery, especially in the creamy pink shirt. Ground is visible around the edges of the figure indicating that Ter Brugghen left a reserve. He used broad brushstrokes to outline the figure and the folds in the drapery. Examination with visible light, X-radiographs, and infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.8 microns revealed numerous changes by the artist in the sitter’s drapery and the bagpipes.
The painting is in good condition. It exhibits some weave enhancement, which was probably caused by too much pressure during the lining. The X-radiographs show a small, triangular loss in the lower left corner in the fabric in the sitter’s gray cloak. The paint bears a broad craquelure in the lighter areas and a finer craquelure in the darks, which is enhanced by some tenting. In addition to paint loss associated with the hole, there is a vertical area of paint loss in the upper left corner, tiny losses along the bottom edge in the right corner, and small losses associated with old stretcher-bar cracks along the top, left, and right sides. The paint is fairly abraded in the background, especially around the word "fecit" in the inscription. The painting was treated in 2009, at which time discolored varnish was removed and the losses and much of the abrasion were inpainted.
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
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- Arcadian scenes
- courtly style
- patron +burgher
- artist +Albrecht Dürer + influence of
- musician with instrument
- theatrical performance
- pastoral poetry