Utrecht Caravaggism

Matthias StomerThe Adoration of the Shepherds, ca. 1635-40, Oil on canvas, 44 5/8 x 63 5/8 in. (113.5 x 161.5 cm.), North Carolina Museum of Art

Utrecht Caravaggism refers to those Baroque artists, all distinctly influenced by the art of Caravaggio, who were active mostly in the Dutch city of Utrecht during the first part of the seventeenth century.

Painters such as Dirck van Baburen, Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrick ter Brugghen, Jan van Bijlert and Matthias Stom were all in Rome in the 1610s, a time when the tenebroso of Caravaggio's later style was very influential. Adam Elsheimer, also in Rome at the same time, was probably also an influence on them. Back in Utrecht, they painted mythological and religious history subjects and genre scenes, such as the card-players and gypsies that Caravaggio himself had abandoned in his later career. Utrecht was the most Catholic city in the United Provinces, still about 40% Catholic in the mid-17th century, and even more among the elite groups, who included many rural nobility and gentry with town houses there.[1] It had previously been the main centre, after Haarlem, of Northern Mannerist painting in the Netherlands. Abraham Bloemaert, who had been a leading figure in this movement, and taught the Honthursts and many other artists, also was receptive to the influence of his pupils, and changed his style many times before his death in 1651.

The brief flourishing of Utrecht Caravaggism ended around 1630. At that time, major artists had either died, as in the case of Baburen and ter Brugghen, or had changed style, like Honthorst's shift to portraiture and history scenes informed by the Flemish tendencies popularized by Peter Paul Rubens and his followers. They left a legacy, however, through their influence on Rembrandt's use of chiaroscuro and Gerrit Dou's "niche paintings" (a genre popularized by Honthorst).

Along with other Caravaggisti active in Italy and Woerden, they set the stage for later artists who worked in a Caravaggesque-inspired manner such as Georges de La Tour in Lorraine and Jan Janssens in Ghent.


  1. Wayne Franits, Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting, p.65, Yale UP, 2004, ISBN 0-300-10237-2

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