Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Orazio Gentileschi

Lute Player
oil on canvas
144 x 130 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA

Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639) was born in Pisa to the Florentine goldsmith, and in 1576 or 1578, he moved to Rome. His own career was slow in starting and he was almost 40 before it really got underway. Then in the first decade of the seventeenth century friendship with Caravaggio brought about a sudden change. After working in a Mannerist style he became one of the closest and most gifted of Caravaggio's followers. He was one of the few Caravaggisti who was a friend of the master, and in 1603 he and Caravaggio and two other artists were sued for libel by Giovanni Baglione. After Caravaggio's departure from Rome in 1606, Orazio seems to have adopted a more openly Caravaggesque style. This change in style brought a shift away from religious commissions to works for the private collectors who had been the first supporters of Caravaggio.

In 1621 a nobleman invited him to Genoa where he met Van Dyck, and this was the start of the extraordinary international success he enjoyed with several aristocratic patrons. They commissioned canvases for their collections and he often produced the same composition in more than one version. While in Genoa he painted an Annunciation that is often considered his masterpiece. In 1624 he left for Paris where he worked for Marie de' Medici. He then moved to London where he settled and became court painter to Charles I. His travels were a factor in spreading the Caravaggesque manner, but by the end of his career he had long abandoned heavy chiaroscuro in favour of light colours. He was much admired by the English court and private collectors for the now much lighter-toned and very enjoyable quality of his canvases, and he painted the ceilings for the Queen's House at Greenwich, now in Marlborough House, London. He remained in london until he died.

His work does not have the power and uncompromising naturalism of Caravaggio, tending rather towards the lyrical and refined. His graceful figures are stately and clearly disposed, with sharp-edged drapery-qualities recalling his Tuscan heritage of superb elegance and draughtsmanship.