This painting entered the Borghese Collection in the second half of the 17th century. It was executed by the Bolognese artist Lionello Spada, probably around 1615, shortly after he returned to his native city following a stay in Malta and perhaps also in Rome. The naturalistic character of the work reveals the influence of Caravaggio, although in a less dramatic key and with a conspicuous penchant for detail. In spite of the traditional title of Concert, the scene depicts the moment prior to the performance itself, when the conductor distributes the scores to the musicians while they tune their instruments.
19th-century frame with cymatium moulding, fillet and small pearl motifs, 171 x 210 x 13.5 cm
Rome, collection of Maffeo Barberini (?), 1623; Rome, collection of Camillo Pamphilj, 1743; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1769; Rome, collection of Pietro Camuccini, 1816; Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 14, no. 43. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.
The painting was first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in the Inventario Fidecommissario of 1833, where it is described as a ‘music concert, by Leonello Spada, 8 spans wide, 6 spans 4 inches high’. We do not have certain information about its provenance. It is possible that the canvas is the ‘Music’ by Lionello Spada listed in the inventory of Maffeo Barberini of 1623, the year he became pope, taking the name Urban VIII (Negro, Roio 2002, p. 126, n. 58).
More recently, Andrea De Marchi shed greater light on the circumstances of the work’s entry into the Borghese Collection, which was previously believed to have occurred in the context of a disagreement between the Borghese and Pamphilj families in the late 17th century over claims to the Aldobrandini estate. Indeed, the work in question was originally thought to have been part of that controversy and to have been granted to the Borghese; its provenance was accounted for in this way when it appeared in a family inventory dating to the 1760s. Yet closer documentary analysis revealed that this canvas was not part of that dispute: it is in fact clearly indicated in the Pamphilj inventory of 1747, which describes a work with ‘various figures performing a musical concert, by Lionello Spada of Naples [...] received by the above-mentioned prince as a bequest from Cardinal Della Mirandola in 1743’ (cited in De Marchi 2014, p. 243, note 6).
The story of the work’s vicissitudes as a collector’s piece, however, do not end there. Examination of documents belonging to the art dealer Pietro Camuccini proved that the painting changed hands several more times: an accounts record and payment receipts show that Camuccini purchased the Concert in 1816 from another figure active on the Roman market before selling it to Prince Camillo. Evidently, the canvas left the Borghese Collection at some point in the second half of the 18th century, probably during the difficult years of the Roman Republic; after several transfers of ownership, it found its way into the possession of Camuccini, from whom Camillo later purchased it. During this same period, other works from the Borghese Collection were similarly sold and subsequently repurchased. These transactions indicate that whenever possible Camillo sought to reacquire the same works that his family had been forced to sell in the wake of the difficulties presented by that historical juncture (Puddu 2017/18, pp. 176-182).
Critics have generally dated the work to sometime in the 1610s, the period following the artist’s return to his native city of Bologna from a stay in Malta (1609-1610) and perhaps also in Rome (Bonfait 1988, pp. 358-359; Loire 1996, pp. 346-351; Negro, Roio 2002, p. 126, n. 58).
In spite of the title traditionally given to the work, the scene actually depicts the moment prior to the concert. The musicians are tuning their instruments following the indications of the conductor, who is visible on the right as he distributes the scores. The numerous figures are crowded together, tending to overlap in the pictorial space; they create the excited, almost chaotic atmosphere typical of certain kinds of ‘orchestra rehearsals’.
The influence of Caravaggio is apparent in the naturalistic character of the painting; at the same time, the artist manifests his personal style through the heightened expressivity of the figures and a taste for detail, evident in an overabundance of decorative elements. He captures the immediacy of a moment of contemporary social life, thanks above all to the meticulous rendering of the garments and the faithful representation of the gestures of the musicians (Economopoulos 2000, p. 168; Pirondini 2002, p. 41; Quagliotti 2007, p. 97).
The painting also lends itself to allegorical interpretation: the musicians and singers of various ages may represent the different stages of life in relation to the experience of love, in keeping with such thematic associations that were widespread in the painting of Veneto and Emilia during the 16th century. At one end of this ideal spectrum is the young man on the extreme right of the scene, whose marginal role suggests that he has not yet been initiated into music, and therefore love, while at the other end we find the mature conductor distributing the musical scores, a metaphor for his experience (Economopoulos 2000).
Lionello Spada depicted the same subject in another painting executed for Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, which later entered the collection of King Louis XIV of France; today it is held at the Louvre in Paris. The dimensions of this work are similar to those of the Borghese canvas; it was also painted close in time to the latter. This second version is a more balanced composition, with only four figures rather than seven. It is also more harmonious from the points of view of movement and the decoration of the details (Negro, Roio 2002).
Pier Ludovico Puddu