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Gerrit van Honthorst

Gerrit van Honthorst

Pieter de Jode II after Gerrit van Honthorst. Self-Portrait, 1662. From Cornelis de Bie, Het Gulden Cabinet (Joannes Meyseens: Antwerp, 1661).

Also known as
Ger van Hondthorst, Ger Van Hondthorst, Gerard van Honthorst, Gerard von Honthorst, Gerhard Honthorst, Gerrit Honthorst, Gerard van (Gherardo della Notte) Honthorst, Gerrit van (Gherardo Fiammingo) Honthorst, Gerrit Van Honthorst, Gerard van (Gherardo delle Notti) Honthorst
Date of birth
Date of death

Gerrit van Honthorst worked in two radically different styles, which was unusual for a 17th-century painter: first creating dramatically lit works that followed in the footsteps of Michelangelo da Caravaggio, then specializing in allegorical portraiture as a court artist. After training with Abraham Bloemaert in his native Utrecht, Honthorst spent a decade in Rome, where he was patronized by the leading connoisseurs of the city. Honthorst earned the nickname “Gherardo delle Notti” (Gerard of the Nights) because of works such as A Boy Blowing on a Firebrand. The subtle differences between the light reflected off the boy’s puffed cheeks, the metal hilt of the sword, and the soft feathers reveal the artist’s sensitivity to materiality and surface. The subject’s antiquated, theatrical garb adds further character to the painting, and demonstrates the impact that Honthorst’s work had upon artists like Georges de la Tour and Rembrandt van Rijn

Honthorst left Rome to work for several years in Utrecht, before spending time at the courts in London and The Hague. During this period, he executed trompe l’oeil ceiling paintings, in which figures appear to peer down from an open sky, and elegant portraits that were often reproduced in print.

The Art Institute owns one of Honthorst’s many surviving drawings, Christ in the Garden of Olives. It is a fine example of a working drawing, meaning it was used to transfer the design to a canvas. The arched upper edge and placement of the weary Christ close to the picture plane indicate that the final painting was destined to be an altarpiece. It was almost certainly made during the artist’s Italian stay. These works by Honthorst help bridge the production of artists in Italy and those in the Netherlands within the Art Institute’s collections of 17th-century art.

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