Artibus et Historiae no. 18 (IX)

1988, ISSN 0391-9064

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FRANCA TRINCHIERI CAMIZ - The Castrato Singer: From Informal to Formal Portraiture

Caravaggio painted two versions of the Lute Player: one for Vincenzo Giustiniani, to be identified with the picture in the Hermitage Museum, the other for Cardinal Del Monte, to be associated with a newly attributed painting in a private collection. The sitter's sexual ambiguity is considered not as evidence of homoerotic overtones but in reference to the natural appearance of a castrato singing to the accompaniment of his lute. A castrato named Montoia actually lived at the same time as Caravaggio in Del Monte's palace, and this fact corroborated an important interest at that time for this newly emerging musical personality. Caravaggio's particular use of allegorical references is also considered, and these are compared to a later allegorical portrait of a castrato: Andrea Sacchi's Apollo Crowning Marc' Antonio Pasqualini. The latter glorifies a castrato's literary and poetical ambitions and most likely was conceived for the artist himself. Portraits have become the tangible symbols of fame and social position achieved by castrati in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Caravaggio's informal portrayals, on the other hand, evoke more specifically the erotic and sensual qualities of a castrato's particular manner of singing.

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