Going for Baroque (Concert) (Favorites at Washington’s National Gallery, 13)

This delightful painting is a relatively recent acquisition – too recent to be in my color-plate book of the National Gallery’s highlights, so it was a serendipitous discovery when I visited. What drew me from a couple galleries away were the bright, sharp colors that shout, “Having a great time over here!”

Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1592 - 1656 ), The Concert, 1623, oil on canvas. Washington, National Gallery, Patrons' Permanent Fund and Florian Carr Fund. Photo: National Gallery.
Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1592 – 1656 ), The Concert, 1623, oil on canvas. Size: 48 x 80 inches. Washington, National Gallery, Patrons’ Permanent Fund and Florian Carr Fund. Photo: National Gallery.

After the first jolt of color, I was entranced by the variety of expressions on the faces: each these people is unique, and each is intently focusing on the music in his or her own way. I’m not used to this much vividness in group paintings of this period: it’s as if characters from Mozart in the Jungle or Opera Feroce have been transported a couple centuries back. (For my comments on two Opera Feroce productions, see the Opera page.) The composition is also remarkable: Honthorst shows enough of each person’s face, gestures, and musical instrument to reveal their character and their part in this ensemble, yet still manages to make the group look impromptu and energetic.

What I’ll look for next time

I wonder if the music on the table is legible? And if so, what is it? (OK, I could look on a high-res photo, but looking at the painting is much more fun.)

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