Dirck van Baburen
Young man singing, 1622
Dirck van Baburen was hardly seventeen when he travelled to Rome. The city was not an unusual destination at the time – on the contrary, a lengthy stay in Italy enhanced an artist’s education. Here, he was particularly fascinated with Caravaggio, who had died shortly beforehand. The influence of that master is apparent in this painting, for example in the manner in which the painter has employed a spotlight-like chiaroscuro contrast and brought the subject up close to the viewer. Here he confined the pictorial space to such an extent that the subject almost seems to burst the picture’s boundaries. At the right, the head nearly comes right out of the painting; at the left, the hand just escapes being cut off by the picture’s edge; at the bottom, the book of music pushes against the frame. There is no doubt – the depiction has panache. As suggested by his fanciful costume, the young singer could well be a travelling performer. His exposed shoulder further underscores his strong corporality and almost makes him a forerunner to the “free” bohemian artist of later eras. Two years after the completion of the painting, the artist died in Holland, not yet thirty years of age. Through paintings like this one, however, the half-length figure of a musician as a pictorial motif remained very popular in his native country for decades, as did the particular manner in which it was painted.