Gherardo delle Notti - Galleria degli Uffizi - February 10 - May 24
Gherardo delle Notti is an artist whose work spans the religious genre and who fuses a Northern European sensibility for light with the demands of the Roman art market of the 17th century.
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Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the name of this painter. His real name is Gerrit van Honthorst, born in Utrecht in the 17th century and the subject of the very first monographic exhibit at the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi has committed to introducing lesser-known artists to the general public and this is an excellent opportunity to get to know van Honthorst’s work.
This artist traveled to Rome around 1610 and was inspired by the style of Caravaggio. He was one of four artists from Utrecht who went to Rome at around this time, all of whom were to be deeply influenced by the recent art they encountered there. The other three were Dirk van Baburen, Hendrickter Bruggen and Jan van Bijlert. He became especially noted for his depiction of artificially lit scenes, receiving the nickname "Gherardo delle Notti" (Gerard of the night). In Rome he blended his own style with the chiaroscuro technique together with the religious passions of the time, creating a very personal style that was greatly appreciated by patrons. Honthorst was a prolific artist. His most attractive pieces are those in which he cultivates the style of Caravaggio, often tavern scenes with musicians, gamblers and people eating. He had great skill at chiaroscuro, often painting scenes illuminated by a single candle.
Take for example his “Adoration of the Shepherds” from this period. Here it is exhibited for the first time after it was sold through Christie’s in 2010. In this painting, baby Jesus glows with a white light that illuminates Mary’s face and shines on the joy of the onlookers. There in none of the harshness of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro in this work as Gherardo uses a more brown-toned palette.
Gherardo also put to excellent use the candle as a lighting tool. In his painting representing a “Cavadenti”, a dentist, the patient’s pain is very nicely lit by a youth holding a candle and directing the light with his hand.
In another painting, “Dinner with Lute Player”, dentistry takes place at a table. This work was already present in the Uffizi according to its inventory of 1623, as this painting was purchased by Cosino II from the artist. Here, two candles are the light sources used to direct the story of a very good party that caused the man at the head of the table to split a tooth. The tooth is rapidly attended to without causing any break in the festivities.
The last section of the exhibit shows us Gherardo delle Notti’s influence on other painter present in Rome in the same period, and especially on how night scenes were depicted. We are left with an understanding of an artist whose work spans the religious genre and who fuses a Northern European sensibility for light with the demands of the Roman art market of the 17th century.