Gerrit van Honthorst
Biography of Genre Painter, Utrecht School, Follower of Caravaggio.

Pin it

Christ before the High Priest (1617)
National Gallery London.

Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656)


Early Training and Artistic Career
Court Painter
Genre Paintings
Popular Works by Gerrit van Honthorst

For details of the colours
used by Gerrit van Honthorst
in his painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

For top painters/sculptors, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For an overall guide, see:
Fine Art Painting.
For a guide to oils, see:
Oil Painting.


Among the great Dutch Old Masters of 17th century Dutch painting, Honthorst was also known as Gherardo delle Notti (Gerard of the Night Scenes), due to his use of candlelight in his pictures). Greatly influenced by his extended stay in Italy, he was a leading member of the Utrecht Caravaggisti, a group of Dutch Realist artists active in Utrecht who were directly influenced by the Italian genius Caravaggio (1571-1610). Other Caravaggisti included Dirck van Baburen (1595–1624) and Hendrick Terbrugghen (1588–1629), although Honthorst was the only one to gain an international reputation. Honthorst was patronized by aristocratic collectors throughout Europe including King Christian IV of Denmark and Charles I of England. Although he created numerous works of religious art, as well as large scale decorative works and portraits, he is best known for his genre painting - in particular, his scenes of taverns, musicians and merriment. His use of chiaroscuro and art of depicting artificial light influenced a young Rembrandt (1606-69) and Georges La Tour (1593–1652). Examples of his best works include Supper Party (1620, Uffizi Florence); The Concert (1625, Galleria Borghese, Rome) and Adoration of the Shepherds (1622, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum).



Training and Artistic Career

Little is known of Honthorst's early life, except that he was born in Utrecht, the son of a painter of tapestry cartoons. He trained in the studio of Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651), a Dutch painter, engraver and printmaker. Bloemaert was one of the original Haarlem Mannerism school but changed his style with the advent of the Baroque style. It is believed that Honthorst travelled to Rome between 1610-12 and there was introduced to the works of early Italian Baroque artists like Caravaggio, Guido Reni (1575–1642) and Jacopo Bassano (1510-92). He painted many religious works in Rome, including Christ Before the High Priest (National Gallery, London) and fresco paintings for churches including the S. Maria della Scala. However, these themes found little popularity outside of Italy.

Court Painter

He stayed in Rome until 1628 and then returned to Utrecht. In Italy his style of Baroque painting attracted the patronage of the aristocracy and he continued to court royal circles on his return home. At the invitation of Charles I he spent 6 months in England and painted Mercury Presenting the Liberal Arts to Apollo and Diana (1628, Hampton Court), as well as royal portraits in the manner of Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641). Between 1635 and 1652 he produced a series of history paintings for King Christian IV of Denmark. In 1652 he was appointed painter to the Stadholder at Hague and was commissioned to produce large-scale decorative works and a number of court portraits. His decorative works show the influence of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), a personal friend, as well as Italian artist Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). Meantime, Honthorst had set up a flourishing school in Utrecht, and together with van Baburen and Terbrugghen, was responsible for championing Caravaggism within the Netherlands. Records show that at any one time, Honthorst had at least 20 apprentices working for him, each of whom paid him an annual fee for the privilege of doing so.

Genre Paintings

Honthorst's genre paintings were perhaps his most important contribution to the evolution of Dutch Baroque art. He modified Caravaggio's method of illumination by depicting artificial light. The source of the light was often hidden by a silhouetted motif. The Merry Fiddler (1623, Rijksmuseum) is a wonderful example of Honthorst's style of Dutch genre painting. A man leans out a window laughing, a violin held in one hand a glass of wine in the other. The man appears to almost lean out of the picture, inviting the viewer to come and join the party. In Concert on a Balcony (1624, Louvre, Paris), five women sit on a balcony playing and singing to an audience we cannot see. Red damask curtains have been drawn to theatrically reveal the players. Their brightly coloured clothes echo 16th century Burgundian theatre and add to the overall image of fun. The painting was probably meant to hang above a fireplace and as such would have had a certain trompe l'oeil effect. In many of his genre paintings Honthorst abandoned his dark palette in favour of a more colourful and gay one. He introduces a chromatic scale of bright colours and light, setting a tone with electric blue, pale yellows and splashes of red. This was also an adaptation on Caravaggio's style, typical of the Utrecht Caravaggists.

Honthorst died in Utrecht in 1656.


Popular Paintings by Gerrit Honthorst

Paintings by Gerrit van Honthorst can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world. They include:

- Christ Before the High Priest (c.1617) National Gallery, London.
- A Young Woman Playing a Viola da Gamba (Undated), Private Collection.
- Supper Party (1620) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
- The Dentist (1622) Gemaldegalerie, Dresden.
- Adoration of the Shepherds (1622) Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne.
- Musical Group on a Balcony (1622) Private Collection.
- The Merry Fiddler (1623) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
- Convivial Fellow (1624) The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
- Happy Violinist with a Glass of Wine (1624) Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
- Concert on a Balcony (1624) Louvre, Paris.
- The Young Drinker (Undated) Residenzgalerie, Salzburg.
- The Concert (1625) Galleria Borghese, Rome.
- Mercury Presenting the Liberal Arts to Apollo & Diana (1628) Hampton Court.


• For more biographical details about famous Dutch painters, see: Homepage.
• For analysis of important pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

Visual Artists, Greatest
© All rights reserved.