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Gerrit van Honthorst was a painter from the Dutch Golden Age. He was primarily noted for his artificially lit compositions, much inspired by the artworks of Caravaggio. The artist achieved great recognition during his career and was commissioned by many monarchs.
Gerrit van Honthorst was born in the city of Utrecht, Dutch Republic, in November 1592. His first training would be with his father, since he was a decorative painter, and later studied under Abraham Bloemaert. He then moved to Italy, after finishing his studies, where the earliest document of his presence dates from 1616.
Though Van Honthorst was not the only one, several contemporary Dutch artists also went to Rome in the same period; they would even be called “the Utecht caravaggisti.” Amongst this group, there are names like Hendrick ter Bruggen, Jan van Biljert and Dirck van Baburen.
In Rome, van Honthorst lodged at Vincenzo Giustiniani’s palace, where he painted his Christ Before the High Priest, which is now in the National Gallery of London. As Giustiniani was an important intellectual and art collector, van Honthorst came in contact with several Italian artworks, especially by Carracci, Bartolomeo Manfredi, and Caravaggio, who was a profound influence on him.
Gerrit van Honthorst's artwork was highly noted by his beautiful and delicate depictions of artificial light, and he would even receive the nickname of Gerard of the night or Gherardo delle Notti. He received many commissions from esteemed Italian patrons like Cardinal Scipione Borghese and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de Medici.
Upon his arrival back in Utrecht, van Honthorst began to build a distinct reputation in the Dutch Republic as well as abroad. He became president of the Painters Guild of St. Luke in 1623, the same year of his marriage. His recognition grew so that Sir Dudley Carleton recommended his artwork to both Lord Dorchester and the Earl of Arundel. In 1626, Honthorst painted and hosted a dinner for Rubens.
At some point, the artist was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, who employed him as a drawing teacher for her children. The Queen was the sister of King Charles I of England, who invited Honthorst to England in 1628. In England, the artist executed, amongst others, The Four Eldest Children of the King of Bohemia, an intimate group portrait.
Although he was back in Utrecht, the artist remained under the patronage of the English monarch. In 1631, Honthorst painted the Queen, King, and all their offspring. Around the same period, he also painted pictures illustrating Danish history incidents for King Christian IV of Denmark.
Honthorst’s popularity was such that his newly opened studio would have around 24 students at any one time, each one paying 100 guilders a year. Gerrit’s brother Willem van Honthorst also became a painter. Curiously, Willem's teacher was trained by Gerrit himself.
Gerrit van Honthorst died 27 April, 1656.