|Valentin de Boulogne: The Concert, 1622-25|
As a species of Italian baroque genre paintings, Roman tavern scenes are pretty much straightforward—boozers, card-cheats, pickpockets, loose women and the like. Valentin’s shot at Caravaggism however is totally mysterious.
Five musicians are gathered around a half-eaten meat pie which sits upon on a large chunk of funerary sculpture from antiquity. The violist and tenor at the left need a part book for the melody and words of the song. The child, and the guitarist and lutenist don’t need one; most Renaissance instrumentalists could improvise very capably.
In the foreground a young soldier fills another glass while a woman in the background chug-a-lugs a whole bottle. The three musicians on the right look up toward the viewer, as if responding to a photographer who had come in to the room and asked to take their picture.
The picture suggests an allegory of some sort, but what does it really mean? If we knew what song or chanson they were singing, perhaps it would make sense to us. But we don’t, and so we must imagine the music for ourselves.