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“The Musicians” by Caravaggio

Caravaggio - I Musici

“The Musicians” by Caravaggio

The Musicians by Caravaggio shows four boys in classical costume, three playing various musical instruments and singing, the fourth is dressed as Cupid and reaching towards a bunch of grapes. Caravaggio seems to have composed the painting based on the studies of two key figures. The central character with the lute has been identified with Caravaggio’s companion Mario Minniti, and the individual next to him and facing the viewer is possibly a self-portrait of Caravaggio. The cupid bears a strong resemblance to a boy he painted in two previous paintings.

The manuscripts show that the boys are practising a secular vocal music composition celebrating love, and the eyes of the central figure, are moist with tears. The violin in the foreground invites the viewer to join. This painting was Caravaggio most complex composition to date, and he struggled with painting the four figures separately and then trying to relate each to the other and the picture-space, and the overall effect is not as masterly as his later works.

Scenes showing musicians were a favourite theme at the time. The Church was supporting a revival of music, and new styles were being tried, especially by educated and progressive Church officials.


Caravaggio was active in Rome, Naples, Malta, and Sicily from the early 1590s to 1610. His paintings combine the realistic observation of the physical and emotional human situation with the dramatic use of lighting. He made the technique of darkening shadows and transfixing subjects in bright shafts of light his dominant stylistic element.  His influence on the new Baroque style that emerged from Mannerism was profound. In the 20th century, interest in his work revived and his importance to the development of Western art has been elevated.


  • The song the youths are practising deals with the sorrows of love. Does this backstory help you better appreciate this Caravaggio painting?
  • Musical scenes became popular as the Church that started supporting various forms of music and Cardinals sponsored various concerts. Does this painting have any religious overtones?
  • Caravaggio was accused of murder, assault and many fights. Are you surprised to learn that he served time in prison?

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The Musicians

  • Title:                The Musicians or Concert of Youths
  • Artist:              Caravaggio
  • Year:                1595
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   92 cm × 118.5 cm (36 in × 46.7 in)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET


  • Name:           Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio
  • Birth:             1571 – Milan, Duchy of Milan, Spanish Empire
  • Died:              1610 (aged 38) – Porto Ercole, Grand Duchy of Tuscany
  • Movement:    Baroque
  • Notable works:

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“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand,
as if it were necessary to understand,
when it is simply necessary to love.”

– Claude Monet


Photo Credit: 1) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons