Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1590-1656 )
Allegory of Painting, 1648
Oil on canvas 54 5/16 in. x 44 1/2 in. (138 cm x 113 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Suzanne Nady in memory of her parents, Jeanne and Joseph Falk1998.1
Gerrit van Honthorst began his artistic training with his father, a decorative painter living in Utrecht, before becoming an apprentice to the Mannerist painter Abraham Bloemaert. After becoming a master himself, Honthorst traveled to Italy. The experience transformed his style. By 1616, he was living in Rome in the household of the financier and collector Vincenzo Giustiniani. Giustiniani’s collection, which included ancient sculpture as well as paintings, was rich in the works of Caravaggio, who had died only six years before. The Italian artist’s use of contrasting light and dark inspired Honthorst to concentrate on similar scenes, which earned him the nickname Gherardo delle Notti (Gerrit of the night scenes). Upon his return to Utrecht in 1620, Honthorst built a large studio, enabling him to spread the new Caravaggist style among his fellow artists. Since Dirck van Baburen and Hendrick Terbrugghen, who had also lived in Rome, worked in Utrecht as well, the city became a hotbed of the new tenebrist style of painting. Honthorst, however, did not remain there. In 1628 he began work for the English court, and he spent his final years at court in the Hague. In his later career he concentrated on portraiture, enjoying success as a history painter in court service. He died in 1656.
In this painting, Honthorst conflates allegory and portraiture. The female sitter uses the tools of the trade—brushes, palette, and mahlstick—to finish the fictive canvas bearing a portrait. Though she is represented as Pictura, the personification of painting, she is at the same time a specific woman, perhaps a studio model. Cupid likewise balances allegory and the human realm. The painting he holds is thought to be Honthorst’s self-portrait.