CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Gherardo delle Notti

Gerrit van Honthorst Exhibition: 10 February - 24 May 2015

Information from the museum´s website

The Galleria degli Uffizi opens the Florence 2015 Art for a Year exhibition season with the first monographic exhibition ever devoted to Gerrit van Honthorst, a Caravaggesque painter from Holland better known to the Italian public by the nickname of Gherardo delle Notti on account of his propensity for painting nocturnal scenes whose atmospheric rendering of light was generated by the intense glow of candles and the contrasting shadows they cast.
When Gerrit van Honthorst hastily departed from Rome in the late spring of 1620 to return to his native Utrecht for ever, he must have been living in Italy for almost ten years. He probably first came to Italy at the beginning of the second decade of the 17th century (c. 1610–11).

The painter’s time in Italy proved to be the finest and stylistically most innovative period of his entire career. He subscribed almost immediately to Caravaggio’s revolution, and his earliest work reveals all the raw strength of a young northern artist dazzled by Caravaggio’s naturalism.

In next to no time he himself became a leading light in the world of painting and his work had the honour of adorning important altars in Rome and Genoa, not such a common occurrence for a painter with a strong naturalistic bent. His work was soon very much in demand by such prestigious collectors as Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani and Grand Duke Cosimo II.
In fact we owe it to Cosimo II’s enthusiasm for Gherardo’s work if Florence, and the Galleria degli Uffizi in particular, can boast today of five wonderful paintings by him, including three depicting the convivial themes which were to prove crucial for the development of the genre both in Italy and in northern Europe. Piero Guicciardini, the Medici’s ambassador in Rome, commissioned Gherardo to paint the altarpiece for the altar of his chapel in Santa Felicita (the chancel), a large, nocturnal Adoration of the Shepherds which was damaged almost beyond recovery by a Mafia car bomb in an attack on the Uffizi in 1993.

Thus Florence is an extremely appropriate venue for hosting an exhibition on the Italian career of Gherardo delle Notti, a painter now recognised as being of the utmost international importance and interest, yet to whom no monographic exhibition has ever yet been devoted either in Italy or elsewhere. To mark this unique occasion, loans have been granted by such prestigious international museums as the National Gallery in London, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

“Since the Uffizi was struck by the criminal wrath of a Mafia car-bomb in 1993, Gherardo delle Notti’s Adoration of the Shepherds has become a living memory of those dark days, yet at the same time it has taken on a new meaning as a symbol of proud rebirth. But if the Uffizi has decided to devote an exhibition of considerable substance to Gherardo, it is more especially on account of the unparalleled merit of his pictures on display in the gallery’s rooms, a series of paintings which, apart from anything else, is also significantly larger than that held by any other museum in Italy.” (A. Natali).

The exhibition provides a convincing and detailed account both of his early, simpler northern phase (with such works as the Dead Christ with Two Angels from Palazzo Reale in Genoa, or the newly attributed Judith at Prayer Before Beheading Holofernes from a private collection) and of his better-known mature period. This second phase in his career includes the wonderful pictures that made his name as a painter, ranging from the convivial paintings in Florence (the Supper Party, Fortune and Supper with the Lute Player) to those that belonged to Vincenzo Giustiniani (with the exceptional loan of Christ before the High Priest Caiaphas from the National Gallery in London).
Three altarpieces are of particular importance: St. Theresa of Avila Crowned by Christ painted for the church of Sant’Anna in Genoa, the Beheading of St. John the Baptistpainted for the church of Santa Maria della Scala in Rome, and the large altarpiece painted for the Capuchin Friars’ church in Albano in 1618 depicting the Virgin in Glory with St. Francis and St. Bonaventure.

The pictures which Gerrit painted in Italy are followed by a selection of other pictures painted by the artist in Holland in the first few years after he left the peninsula, showing how his palette gradually developed, to become “lighter”; this section includes his extremely famous Merry Fiddler from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

An extensive section is devoted to illustrating the painter’s huge influence on the development of the nocturnal genre, with pictures by Trophime Bigot, the Candlelight Master, Giovan Francesco Guerrieri, Francesco Rustici, Rutilio Manetti, Adam de Coster, Mathias Stomer, Domenico Fiasella and Paolo Guidotti; while two paintings by Abraham Bloemaert, Gerrit’s master, illustrate Bloemart’s progress from the late Mannerist style that he favoured towards the end of the 16th century, to the style that he adopted in the early 1620s (with his celebrated Flautist from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht) which was influenced by his pupil’s return to his native city in 1620.

The exhibition winds up with a selection of paintings by Gerrit’s contemporaries in Rome, revealing moments of clear affinity with him in what was to prove an extremely lively and fertile exchange. These artists include Dirck van Baburen and Hendrick Terbrugghen, both from Utrecht like Gerrit; Spadarino (whose Feast of the Gods in the Uffizi was once attributed to Honthorst himself); and Bartolomeo Manfredi, another painter of crucial scenes on convivial themes, like Gerrit.

The exhibition is enriched by the presence of Caravaggio’s Tooth Puller, painted in 1609 and fairly rapidly acquired by the Tuscan grand ducal court. The painting unquestionably played a fundamental role in the development of Gerrit’s favourite themes; in fact he alludes to it in at least three of his own pictures. In view of this, and in view of Cosimo II’s and Piero Guicciardini’s evident enthusiasm for Gerrit’s work, it seems plausible to suggest that, while we have as yet no documentary evidence to prove the circumstance, the painter may well have spent some time in Florence.

The exhibition, curated by Gianni Papi, who also edited the catalogue published by Giunti, is promoted by the Ministero dei beni e delle attivitĂ  culturali e del turismo with the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Toscana, the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della cittĂ  di Firenze, the Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze Musei and the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.