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Flute player

Veneto school


The Flute Player is a pendant of the Passionate Singer (inv. 132), to which it is related in terms of size and subject matter. Both belonged to the collection of Scipione Borghese. Described by Manilli as works by Giorgione, to whose circle they are still attributed today, critics have never agreed unanimously as to the authorship of the two paintings. The Flute Player is portrayed in a highly unusual way, viewed from the left side with his head turned towards the observer, a pose that lends dynamism to the figure.


Object details

Inventory
130
Location
Date
c. 1507
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
cm 102,5 x 73
Frame

Salvator Rosa (123,5 x 94,5 x 7,5 cm.)

Provenance

Rome, Cardinal Scipione Borghese Collection; Inv. c.1633, no. 43; Inv. 1693, Room III, nos. 30, 38; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 25. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Exhibitions
  • 1955 Venezia, Palazzo Ducale
  • 1993, Parigi, Galeries Nationales d’Exposition du Grand Palais
  • 2000-2001 Roma, Palazzo Barberini
  • 2001-2002 Tokyo, Museum of Western Art; Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale
  • 2007 Verona, Palazzo del Mercato vecchio
  • 2009-2010 Kyoto, National Museum of Modern Art
  • 2011 Milano, Museo Diocesano
  • 2014 Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio
  • 2024 Roma, Palazzo Barberini
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1946 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1953 Alvaro Esposti e Gilda Diotallevi; ICR (diagnostics)
  • 2000 Editech (diagnostics)
  • 2001 OPUS Restauratori Consorziati; EMMEBICI (diagnostics)
  • 2009 Restauratori della Soprintendenza
  • 2023 Ars Mensurae di Stefano Ridolfi (diagnostics)

Commentary

The Flute Player is captured in an unusual side-on pose, turning his head towards the viewer while holding the musical instrument in his left hand. His powerful, almost sneering expression makes the image almost like a caricature. The figure wears a white shirt with cut-outs along the sleeve and a red headdress that partially places his face in shadow, the size of which, as revealed by diagnostic tests, now appears reduced as compared with the original idea. The clothing is similar in type and colour to that of the Passionate Singer portrayed in another canvas, of identical size, also part of the Borghese collection (inv. 132).

The two paintings, traditionally considered pendants, first appeared in Cardinal Scipione's inventory, dated around 1633, under the item “no. 43. Two paintings on canvas of two Jesters, one in a shirt with a red hat, the other with a slashed tunic and a fipple flute in his hand; gilded frame, 4 high by 3 wide, Giorgione” (Corradini 1998, no. 43). They were still recorded together, with the same description, in the Villa Pinciana guide by Manilli in 1650 (p. 68). Because of an inventory reference from the 1660s, the two paintings were associated with a three-figure composition by the Venetian artist already in the Vendramin collection – subsequently dismantled – to which the remaining Borghese heads apparently bore witness (Della Pergola 1955, pp. 112-113, nos. 201-202). This theory, which was later discredited, nevertheless revealed the link between the two canvases and the Concerto in the Mattioli collection (on this subject, see Ballarin 1993, pp. 344-347; Dal Pozzolo 2009, pp. 442-444), which some have assigned to the last phase of Giorgione's production, making it an essential point of comparison in the critical debate on the Borghese pendant, also in terms of style and chronology. The exhibition held at the Doge's Palace in Venice in 1955 and the one in Paris in 1993, in which the two Borghese and the Mattioli canvases were exhibited together, provided an opportunity for dialogue between these works. They also prompted considerable reflection on the style of Giorgione's late period, following Dürer's move to Venice between 1506 and 1507, the same period with which the two heads in the Gallery are traditionally associated.

The attribution to Giorgione persisted in the Borghese family documents up to the inventory of 1833, when the two works were assigned to Giovanni Bellini, while later Venturi (1893, p. 97), followed by Berenson (1894, p. 91) and Fiocco (1829, pp. 124-125), put forward the name of Domenico Capriolo. In a letter sent to the management of the Museo Borghese, Longhi opted again for Giorgione, with whom the two controversial canvases are generically associated to this day, or possibly placed within the generic sphere of early 17th-century “Neo-Giorgionismo” (Robertson 1955, p. 276; Coliva 1994, pp. 56-58; Anderson 1996, p. 340; Herrmann Fiore 2006, table 130; for a summary of the attribution debate, see Dal Pozzolo 2009, cit.).

Pier Ludovico Puddu




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