Symbols of Lute Player by Caravaggio
Caravaggio’s The Lute Player was painted for Cardinal del Monte, an important patron during the earlier part of the painter’s career. The play of light and shade, with the use of a shaft of light to illumine the painting from the left, is characteristic of his mature work. (Hermitage, St. Petersburg)
Symbols of Lute Player by Caravaggio. Painting by Michelangelo Caravaggio (29 September 1571 – 18 July 1610) “The Lute Player” (around 1595) was commissioned by his patron Cardinal Francesco del Monte. Later it was bought another Del Monte – an art dealer and art lover Vincenzo Giustiniani. By the XIX century the family of Giustiniani became so poor that the collection kept for centuries went under the hammer in 1808. Even before the start of trading Russian emperor Alexander I personally asked the director of the Louvre Baron Dominique Vivant Denon to buy “Lute-Player” for the Hermitage of St. Petersburg. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), the most original and influential Italian painter of the 17th century. His early works were usually small pictures of non-dramatic subjects, with half-length figures, a preponderance of still-life details (which Caravaggio painted superbly), and a frankly homo-erotic character.
Caravaggio was notoriously violent and in 1606 he fled Rome after killing a man in a brawl. His final years were spent in Naples, Malta, and Sicily.
1. Iris – symbolizes the coming of Christ, carrying peace to the World. As this symbol is associated with the manifestation of God in the world, the iris is still perceived as a flower of the Virgin Mary and is sometimes portrayed in the scene instead of the lily of the Annunciation.
2. Rose – a symbol of passion and blood of Jesus. There are pictures in which the crown of Christ is presented in a crown of roses. Often, this flower is associated with the Virgin Mary, but she holds a rose without thorns.
3. Jasmine – a symbol of love and forgiveness. The white color is reminiscent of the purity and innocence of Jesus.
4. Daisy – symbolizes the childhood of Christ, Madonna, wanting to give the baby Jesus flower in the winter, found nothing, and made it from very white silk.
5. Wild rose – a symbol of the crown of thorns of Jesus. Its red fruit associated with drops of Christ’s blood that flowed from his forehead on the way to Calvary.
6. Orange – the symbol of eternal righteousness of the Lord. The association arose because the tree does not fall off the leaves. Orange is also a symbol of peace, and Jesus held in his hands. At the same time, the white flowers of orange are associated with purity and because of it, traditionally adorn the Virgin, or the bride’s wreath. Fruit of orange was a symbol of the heavenly life.
7. Figs (fig tree) – the symbol of the cross and resurrection, that is God’s mercy for the people. In the Gospel of Luke is given a parable. A man had a fig tree in the vineyard, but it had not the fruit, and the owner wanted to cut it. However, the grower decided to wait for another year, and if the fig tree did not bear fruit, then it should be cut down. So the Lord lays judgment period for the earthly world, hoping to correct people.
8. Plum – was considered a symbol of loyalty, but has an additional meanings depending on the color. Dark purple plum points to the suffering and death of Christ, yellow – the purity of Jesus and the red is a symbol of his charity. White talks about his humility.
9. Pear – its softness and sweetness likened softness and love of God to the world.
For a long time the picture exhibited at the Hermitage museum was entitled “Lyutnistka” (Russian – Lute Player girl). Only in the early twentieth century, critics agreed that the canvas shows a still young man (for Caravaggio posed his beautiful friend, the artist Mario Minniti). The lute, as well as the violin, in the era of Caravaggio considered a man’s instrument. (Besides, the breast of the lute player proves his male sex).
Mario Minniti (December 8, 1577 – November 22, 1640) – the lover and model for the paintings of the young Caravaggio, who lived with him in 1594-1600. Mario Minniti was born in Syracuse. In 1593 he moved to Rome, where he met Caravaggio. Mario posed for the famous early works of Caravaggio, such as “Boy with a basket of fruit,” panel “Musicians”, “The Lute-Player”, “Boy bitten by a lizard,” “The Calling of St. Matthew “. After the quarrel with Caravaggio in 1600, Minniti left Rome to his native Sicily. When 6 years later Caravaggio had killed Ranuccio Tomassoni in the heat of anger, he got to prison of Tor di Nona. Interestingly, in prison Caravaggio met with Giordano Bruno. After prison, it was Minniti who gave Caravaggio shelter in Sicily in 1608.
Researchers can not clearly classify the genre of “The Lute Player”. It is both a “picture-harmony”, inspired by exquisite strumming art and sadness for the transience of life (the sound of the lute almost immediately disappears), and “apology for Christ”: in a bouquet-puzzle on the bottom left leaf colors are selected in accordance with their symbolic value adopted in the art of that time, as a cryptogram of Jesus’ earthly life. Flowers, fruits and container – symbols of God, it is both the flowers and the fruit of the universe, and the vessel of the truth. In the fullness of secret meaning it is the most interesting part of the painting. During the time of Caravaggio fashion for codes was widespread. Special books were published with lengthy interpretations of all kinds of characters. We know that Caravaggio used them. Each subject had multiple values, which further expanded the composition of semantic space.
Caravaggio never married and had no children, and in his entire artistic life he did not paint a single female nude. He was accused of having love affairs with a boy prostitute, shared by Caravaggio and his friend Onorio Longhi. There was a story of how the artist was chased by a school-master in Sicily for spending too long gazing at the boys in his care. Caravaggio could be seeking sexual solace. His studio drawings depicted “full-lipped, languorous boys … who seem to solicit the onlooker with their offers of fruit, wine, flowers – and themselves”.