The Lute Player

Valentin de Boulogne (French, 1591–1632)

ca. 1626
Oil on canvas
50 1/2 x 39 in. (128.3 x 99.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Walter and Leonore Annenberg Acquisitions Endowment Fund; Director's Fund; Acquisitions Fund; James and Diane Burke and Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch Gifts; Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 2008
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    The greatest French follower of Caravaggio, Valentin was one of the outstanding artists in seventeenth-century Rome. His most frequent subjects are scenes of merriment, with music-making, drinking, and fortune-telling. They are stock Caravaggesque themes, but painted in a direct and vivid style. This canvas, showing a soldier of fortune singing a love madrigal, is unique in Valentin’s career. It is perhaps emblematic of the sobriquet he took in Rome: Amador, Spanish for "lover boy." The painting belonged to the prestigious collection of Cardinal Mazarin, minister to King Louis XIV, and one of the great collectors of the seventeenth century.

  • Catalogue Entry

    Together with Jusepe de Ribera, Valentin de Boulogne was the greatest exponent of caravaggism in Rome, where he spent virtually his entire career, establishing a reputation among collectors for his paintings of gamblers, fortune tellers, and musicians. The MMA painting is unique in showing an individual lute player—as though isolated from one of his multi-figure compositions. The figure is in fancy dress—a soldier of fortune wearing his steel gorget—and is described in a number of inventories and sales catalogues as "Spanish" (see Provenance). The basis for this designation is mysterious, but it is known that when, in 1624, Valentin joined the Schildersbent, a group of mostly Dutch and Flemish painters active in Rome, he took as his sobriquet "Amador" (loosely translated from Spanish as "lover boy"). The subject of madrigals was invariably amatory and the association of music and love was commonplace in art (see Caravaggio’s Musicians: 52.81). This picture, which perhaps dates around 1626, may thus be self-referential. To judge from its illustrious provenance and the copies that are known, it enjoyed considerable fame. It is first listed in the celebrated collection of Cardinal Mazarin, who owned no fewer than nine works by the artist, a number of which were acquired by Louis XIV and are now in the Louvre, Paris. Whether the picture was known to Watteau (Mezzetin: 34.138) and Manet (The Spanish Singer: 49.58.2) cannot be said with certainty but is possible; in the nineteenth century Valentin’s caravaggesque realism was much admired.

    Copies after this work:

    Burghley House, Stamford, Lincolnshire, since at least 1688 (see Hugh Brigstocke and John Somerville, "Italian Paintings from Burghley House," Alexandria, Va., 1995, p. 163); Ugo Accoramboni, Rome, in 1694, as "Il Sonator di Leuto, di Monsù Valentino" (see Giulia De Marchi, "Stime di collezioni romane," Miscellanea della Società romana di storia patria 27 [1987], p. 65); version sold Christie's, London, June 8, 1804, no. 32, and the same or another version sold European Museum, London, May 26, 1806, no. 1642; December 29, 1806, no. 1642; and May 3, 1808, no. 224; private collection, Brescia, in 1946 (see Brejon de Lavergnée and Cuzin 1973); version sold Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 4, 2007, no. 38 (ill., as by a follower of Valentin de Boulogne, 132 x 100 cm).


  • Provenance

    Cardinal Jules Mazarin, Palais Mazarin, Paris (by 1653–d. 1661; inv., 1653, no. 280; inv., 1661, no. 1109); Palais Mazarin, Paris (until at least 1714; inv., 1699–1714); ?Nicolas Beaujon, Paris (until d. 1786; his estate sale, Remy and Julliot, Paris, April 25, 1787, no. 89, as "Un Joueur de guitare assis," by Valentin, 4 pieds x 3 pieds 9 pouces [51 x 48 in.], for 300 livres to Remy); ?sale, Paris, May 2ff., 1791, no. 115, as "Un homme assis, jouant de la guitare," by Valentin, 4 pieds x 3 pieds 3 pouces [51 x 41 in.], for 116 livres to Sollier for Remy; ?[Pierre Rémy, Paris, from 1791]; ?César-Louis-Marie Villeminot, Paris (until d. 1807; his estate sale, Paillet, Paris, May 25–29, 1807, no. 77, as ". . . le Portrait d'un Personnage dans le Costume Espagnol, et en pied, proportion de nature. Il est représenté assis, les Jambes croisées, coiffé d'une Toque relevée d'une Plume, et pinçant de la Guitare," by Valentin, 125 x 95 cm [49 x 37 in.], for Fr 381 to Paule or Paillet); ?[Alexandre-Joseph Paillet, Paris, from 1807]; ?Ennio Quirino Visconti, Paris (until d. 1818); ?his son, Louis-Tullius-Joachim Visconti, Paris (1818–d. 1853); his daughter, Victorine Mathilde Visconti and her husband, Eugène marquis Dodun de Keroman (by 1864–her d. 1884); their daughter, Marie Sophie Dodun de Keroman and her husband, Ernest Frédéric van den Broek d'Obrenan (1884–her d. 1909); their son, Frantz John Eugène Ernest van den Broek d'Obrenan (1909–d. 1944); his son, Charles Ernest William Frantz van den Broek d'Obrenan (1944–d. 1956); private collection (1956–2008; sold to MMA)

  • Exhibition History

    Rome. Accademia di Francia, Villa Medici. "I caravaggeschi francesi," November 15, 1973–January 20, 1974, no. 47 (lent by a private collection, Paris).

    Paris. Grand Palais. "Valentin et les caravagesques français," February 13–April 15, 1974, no. 50 (lent by a private collection, Paris).

  • References

    Inventaire de tous les meubles du cardinal Mazarin, 1653. 1653, no. 280 [Bibliothèque du château de Chantilly, MS 1294; published in "Inventaire de tous les meubles du Cardinal Mazarin," London, 1861, p. 326], as "Un soldat assis qui joue du luth sur toille d'empereur, sa bordure dorée. Valentino".

    Inventaire dressé après la mort du cardinal Mazarin. 1661, no. 1109 [Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Département des manuscrits, Mélanges Colbert 75; published in Gabriel-Jules de Cosnac, "Les richesses du Palais Mazarin," 2nd ed., Paris, 1885, p. 319], as "Un autre faict par Vallentin, sur toille, représentant un 'Soldat assis qui joue du luth,' hault de quatre piedz et large de trois piedz deux poulces, garny de sa bordure de bois doré, prisé la somme de cinq cens livres tournois, cy".

    Théodore Lejeune. Guide théorique et pratique de l'amateur de tableaux. 1, Paris, 1864, p. 159, lists it in the collection of the marquis Dodun de Keroman with an estimate of 1,000 francs; lists separately the work included in the Villeminot sale of 1807.

    Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée and Jean-Pierre Cuzin. I caravaggeschi francesi. Exh. cat., Villa Medici. Rome, [1973], pp. 156–57, no. 47, ill. [French ed., "Valentin et les caravagesques français," Grand Palais, Paris, 1974, pp. 162–63, no. 50, ill.], call this the original version, based on quality and on the pentimenti, and mention two old copies: one belonging to the marquis of Exeter, Burghley House, and the other in a private collection, Brescia, in 1946; note that the composition, with an almost full-length single figure, is unusual for Valentin; see a Venetian quality in the work, comparing it with musicians by Giorgione and Cariani and with a similarly Venetian "Laurel-crowned Flutist" by Valentin, noting that Longhi dates the latter work late in the artist's career and adding that the style of the Lute Player does not contradict a late dating [Roberto Longhi, "A propos de Valentin," La Revue des arts 8 (March–April 1958), p. 66, fig. 5]; wonder if this may be the work included in the 1661 inventory of the collection of Cardinal Mazarin; note that there is an oral tradition in the family of the current owner that the work came from the Visconti collection.

    Jean-Pierre Cuzin. "Pour Valentin." Revue de l'art no. 28 (1975), p. 60, mentions it as probably a late work.

    Benedict Nicolson. The International Caravaggesque Movement. Oxford, 1979, p. 105 [2nd ed., rev. and enl. by Luisa Vertova, "Caravaggism in Europe," Turin, 1989, vol. 1, p. 204; vol. 2, pl. 697], calls it badly preserved.

    Christopher Wright. The French Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Boston, 1985, p. 268.

    Marina Mojana. Valentin de Boulogne. Milan, 1989, pp. 29, 124–25, no. 36, ill. (color), dates it about 1626; refers to the figure as a young soldier dressed "alla spagnola"; mentions a work of this subject by Valentin recorded in the collection of Ugo Accoramboni, Rome, in 1694.

    Patrick Michel. Mazarin, prince des collectionneurs: les collections et l'ameublement du Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661), histoire et analyse. Paris, 1999, pp. 387, 409 n. 157, pp. 586–87, identifies it as the work recorded in the Mazarin collection; lists it as still located in the Grande Salle d'Entrée of the Palais Mazarin in 1714 [an inventory of the Palais Mazarin was conducted between 1699 and 1714; see "Sources," p. 638].

    Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 34, fig. 46 (color).

    Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2008–2010." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Fall 2010), p. 30, ill. (color) and ill. on cover (color detail).

    Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Figures de la réalité: Caravagesques français, Georges de La Tour, les frères Le Nain . . . [Paris], 2010, pp. 101, 167.

    Michael Fried in David Franklin and Sebastian Schütze. Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 2011, p. 119, fig. 47 (color), mentions it as an example of "an 'excessive' mode of embodied subjectivity".

  • Notes

    A version of this composition was included in a sale at Farsettiarte, Prato, November 8, 2013, no. 168, as by an unknown Caravaggesque painter of the seventeenth century.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History