Music and Painting in Cardinal del Monte’s Household

by kbarulich


I had never thought about music being portrayed in Caravaggio’s art, but now very clearly can see the strong connection between the two. It is interesting to try to understand how a painting was seen when it was created and what it meant to the viewers. The Caravaggio musical paintings discussed in this article were meant for private viewing and were enjoyed in del Monte’s palace.

Caravaggio painted his five musical paintings in between 1595 and 1601, when he was living at one of the home of Cardinal Francesco Maria de Monte. Since Caravaggio was living in his patron’s home, these paintings very much reflect del Monte’s taste and affinity for music. Del Monte played a very important role in the 17th century Roman music world and his tastes reveal this.

Caravaggio painted for his patron’s love of music. His North Italian style of descriptive naturalism brought out the beauty of the intricately-made, contemporary musical instruments. These instruments were thought of as status symbols and Caravaggio was sure to highlight them in his work. He also made sure to prominently place musical notations in his paintings, which was common in paintings of the time, both with an obviously musical subject matter and without. These notations are identifiable by musically educated viewers and they enhance the understanding of the paintings. Caravaggio also used symbolism to evoke themes of certain pieces of music.

Caravaggio’s paintings “capture the essence of the subject matter”. The content of the pictures are attached to musical performance. The artist had to understand singing techniques to so accurately display them in his work. Singing was very important to del Monte; he trained singers in his own home. Caravaggio may have spent time with these singers and learned a lot about vocal technique then. Caravaggio’s musical paintings truly express del Monte’s love for and understanding of music in the early 17th century