In his youth Gerard Seghers was at the very forefront of the Northern Caravaggesque movement, a pioneer of an exciting new international style. After completing his studies, most likely in the studio of Abraham Janssens or possibly with Hendrick van Balen, he departed for Italy in 1611 or 1612. Arriving in Rome, he would have found a city in the most staggering period of artistic flux. Caravaggio had died in 1610, but his presence would have still been immediately apparent in the very fashionable works of his closest follower Bartolomeo Manfredi (who had arrived in the city circa 1605). Manfredi was at the height of his fame when Seghers arrived in Rome and the latter was to fall strongly under the spell of the older artist. There are very clear references in his compositions to those of Manfredi, with his fierce use of chiaroscuro and intimate secular scenes often illuminated solely by candlelight. The present lot should be compared to the Cardplayers in the Regional Art Museum Irkutsk,1 but more particularly to the Saint Cecilia,2 listed by Bieneck as location unknown, where Seghers revisits the nocturnal composition with a central female singer framed by figures (in this case angels).
While in Italy Seghers had been requested to buy paintings for the stock of the art dealers Pieter Goetkint and his son Anton; like his Dutch counterpart Gerrit van Honthorst, who was in Italy at the same time, Seghers was profoundly influenced by the popularity of the Caravaggisti, quickly adopting this new style and importing it back to his homeland both in the shape of his own paintings and those he purchased in Rome for Goetkint. Bieneck3 suggests a very sensible dating for the present picture between circa 1620 and 1624, shortly after the artist's return to Antwerp from Spain, where he had worked briefly in the court of Philip III, and before Seghers began to paint in a more Rubensian manner.
1. See D. Bieneck, Gerard Seghers, Lingen 1992, pp. 137-8, no. A9, reproduced.
2. Ibid, pp. 149-151, cat. no. A23, reproduced.
3. See under Literature.
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