The adage “one is good, but two are better” certainly applies to a recent NCMA acquisition. The Lute Player by the Flemish baroque painter Gerard Seghers (1591–1651) came out of a Paris collection and was acquired by the Museum last year at auction.
This new aquisition is being cleaned and reframed and may be ready for display in the kunstkamer (the Museum’s replica of a 17th-century art room) this fall. Gerard Seghers, The Lute Player, circa 1620s, oil on canvas, 46 3/4 x 42 1/4 in., Purchased with funds from the Virginia Smith Kunstkamer Fund.
The imposing female figure who strums her lute by candlelight offers a striking comparison to our other Seghers, The Denial of St. Peter
, a large, multifigured composition purchased with state acquisition funds in 1952. This painting is arguably the masterpiece of the painter’s early career, one executed shortly after he returned to his native Antwerp from Rome around 1620.
It was in Rome that Seghers, like so many of his fellow painters from the low countries, fell under the spell of Caravaggio, a painter of enormous influence who brought to his works a theatrical use of light and dark contrasts, an “in your face” realism, and figures and narratives steeped in high drama. Such lessons were not lost on Seghers, as both The Lute Player and The Denial of St. Peter reflect his early incorporation of a Caravaggesque idiom. Although undated, both canvases were likely painted during the first half of the 1620s. After that Seghers methodically redirected his artistic focus toward a more colorful and lofty style that reflected the influence of Peter Paul Rubens.
The new acquisition doubles the number of Seghers paintings in the Museum's collection. This one was purchased in 1952. Gerard Seghers, The Denial of St. Peter, circa 1620–25, oil on canvas, 62 x 89 1/2 in., Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina
In acquiring The Lute Player
, the NCMA has not only doubled its holdings of Seghers paintings (we also have a reproductive engraving of The Denial of St. Peter
from the same period), but we have added to one of the strengths of its Old Master painting collection: northern European Caravaggisti. Additional examples by Hendrick ter Brugghen (2), Matthias Stom(er), and Theodoor Rombouts, and through stylistic parallels works by Jacob Jordaens and Jan Lievens, enable the Museum to boast of one of the finest collections of this material in America.
Such an embarrassment of riches represented one of my first and proudest initiatives after joining the curatorial staff of the NCMA in 1995. The result was the 1998 exhibition and accompanying catalogue Sinners and Saints, Darkness and Light. The show also included canvases by other Dutch and Flemish Caravaggisti, most notably the Dutchmen Gerrit Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen, as well as a masterpiece by Caravaggio and two works by his principal Italian stylistic interpreter, Bartolomeo Manfredi. All came from American public and private collections.
In the decades since, this interest in Caravaggio and his followers, including Seghers, has continued to grow. As my career at the Museum creeps toward its end in the next couple of years, it seems fitting that I turn to a Caravaggesque work to put an exclamation point on the acquisitions made during my tenure here. There is still more work to do, however; both the Seghers will be reframed and cleaned in the months ahead. I am hopeful that during this process we can bring to our visitors a small exhibition devoted to Gerard Seghers and these two outstanding examples of his Caravaggesque “moment.”