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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Dead Christ with two angels, 1612-1613. Oil Canvas. Genoa, Royal Palace Museum.

The Galleria degli Uffizi opens theFlorence 2015. Art for a Year exhibition season with the first monographic exhibition ever devoted to Gerrit van Honthorst, a Caravaggesque painter from Holland better known to the Italian public by the nickname of Gherardo delle Notti on account of his propensity for painting nocturnal scenes whose atmospheric rendering of light was generated by the intense glow of candles and the contrasting shadows they cast.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Boy blowing on an emberabout 1614. Oil Canvas. Rome, Galleria Fabio Massimo Megna.

When Gerrit van Honthorst hastily departed from Rome in the late spring of 1620 to return to his native Utrecht for ever, he must have been living in Italy for almost ten years.  He probably first came to Italy at the beginning of the second decade of the 17th century (c. 1610–11).

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, 1614-1615. Oil on canvas. Cosenza, Carime Collection at Bank Superintendence for the Historical, Anthropological Heritage of Calabria.

The painter's time in Italy proved to be the finest and stylistically most innovative period of his entire career.  He subscribed almost immediately to Caravaggio's revolution, and his earliest work reveals all the raw strength of a young northern artist dazzled by Caravaggio's naturalism.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Christ in the Garden, 1614-1615. Oil on canvas St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum.

 In next to no time he himself became a leading light in the world of painting and his work had the honour of adorning important altars in Rome and Genoa, not such a common occurrence for a painter with a strong naturalistic bent.  His work was soon very much in demand by such prestigious collectors as Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani and Grand Duke Cosimo II.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Santa Teresa crowned by Christ, 1614-1615. Oil on canvas. Genoa, St. Anne's Church (the Provincial Curia of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers)

In fact we owe it to Cosimo II's enthusiasm for Gherardo's work if Florence, and the Galleria degli Uffizi in particular, can boast today of five wonderful paintings by him, including three depicting the convivial themes which were to prove crucial for the development of the genre both in Italy and in northern Europe.  Piero Guicciardini, the Medici's ambassador in Rome, commissioned Gherardo to paint the altarpiece for the altar of his chapel in Santa Felicita (the chancel), a large, nocturnal Adoration of the Shepherds which was damaged almost beyond recovery by a Mafia car bomb in an attack on the Uffizi in 1993.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Christ before Caiaphas, 1615-1616. Oil on canvas. London, The National Gallery.

Thus Florence is an extremely appropriate venue for hosting an exhibition on the Italian career of Gherardo delle Notti, a painter now recognised as being of the utmost international importance and interest, yet to whom no monographic exhibition has ever yet been devoted either in Italy or elsewhere.  To mark this unique occasion, loans have been granted by such prestigious international museums as the National Gallery in London, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Orpheus1615-1616. Oil Canvas. Naples, Royal Palace.

"Since the Uffizi was struck by the criminal wrath of a Mafia car-bomb in 1993, Gherardo delle Notti's Adoration of the Shepherds has become a living memory of those dark days, yet at the same time it has taken on a new meaning as a symbol of proud rebirth.  But if the Uffizi has decided to devote an exhibition of considerable substance to Gherardo, it is more especially on account of the unparalleled merit of his pictures on display in the gallery's rooms, a series of paintings which, apart from anything else, is also significantly larger than that held by any other museum in Italy." (A. Natali).

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), The Denial of St. Peter, from 1616 to 1617. Oil on canvas. Rennes, Depot du Musée du Louvre au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes.

The exhibition provides a convincing and detailed account both of his early, simpler northern phase (with such works as theDead Christ with Two Angels from Palazzo Reale in Genoa, or the newly attributed Judith at Prayer Before Beheading Holofernesfrom a private collection) and of his better-known mature period.  This second phase in his career includes the wonderful pictures that made his name as a painter, ranging from the convivial paintings in Florence (the Supper PartyFortune andSupper with the Lute Player) to those that belonged to Vincenzo Giustiniani (with the exceptional loan ofChrist before the High Priest Caiaphas from the National Gallery in London). 

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Good luck, 1616-1617. Oil on canvas. Florence, Uffizi Gallery.

Three altarpieces are of particular importance: St. Theresa of Avila Crowned by Christpainted for the church of Sant'Anna in Genoa, the Beheading of St. John the Baptistpainted for the church of Santa Maria della Scala in Rome, and the large altarpiece painted for the Capuchin Friars' church in Albano in 1618 depicting theVirgin in Glory with St. Francis and St. Bonaventure.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), The Mocking of Christ, 1616-1617. Oil on canvas. Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The pictures which Gerrit painted in Italy are followed by a selection of other pictures painted by the artist in Holland in the first few years after he left the peninsula, showing how his palette gradually developed, to become "lighter"; this section includes his extremely famous Merry Fiddlerfrom the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Adoration of the Shepherds, 1616-1617. Oil on canvas. Germany, private collection.

 An extensive section is devoted to illustrating the painter's huge influence on the development of the nocturnal genre, with pictures by Trophime Bigot, the Candlelight MasterGiovan Francesco Guerrieri,Francesco Rustici,Rutilio Manetti,Adam de Coster,Mathias Stomer,Domenico Fiasella andPaolo Guidotti; while two paintings byAbraham Bloemaert, Gerrit's master, illustrate Bloemart's progress from the late Mannerist style that he favoured towards the end of the 16th century, to the style that he adopted in the early 1620s (with his celebrated Flautistfrom the Centraal Museum in Utrecht) which was influenced by his pupil's return to his native city in 1620.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Jesus in the workshop of Saint Joseph, 1617-1618. Oil on canvas. St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum.

The exhibition winds up with a selection of paintings by Gerrit's contemporaries in Rome, revealing moments of clear affinity with him in what was to prove an extremely lively and fertile exchange.  These artists includeDirck van Baburenand Hendrick Terbrugghen, both from Utrecht like Gerrit; Spadarino(whose Feast of the Gods in the Uffizi was once attributed to Honthorst himself); and Bartolomeo Manfredi, another painter of crucial scenes on convivial themes, like Gerrit.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), St. Augustine of Canterbury, from 1617 to 1618. Genoa. Oil on canvas, Museum of the Royal Palace

The exhibition is enriched by the presence of Caravaggio's Tooth Puller, painted in 1609 and fairly rapidly acquired by the Tuscan grand ducal court.  The painting unquestionably played a fundamental role in the development of Gerrit's favourite themes; in fact he alludes to it in at least three of his own pictures.  In view of this, and in view of Cosimo II's and Piero Guicciardini's evident enthusiasm for Gerrit's work, it seems plausible to suggest that, while we have as yet no documentary evidence to prove the circumstance, the painter may well have spent some time in Florence.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, 1618. Oil on canvas. Rome, church of Santa Maria della Scala.

The exhibition, curated by Gianni Papi, who also edited the catalogue published by Giunti, is promoted by the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo with the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Toscana, the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze,  the Galleria degli Uffizi, Firenze Musei and the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Samson and Delilah, 1619-1620. Oil on canvas. Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Adoration of the Child, 1619-1620. Oil on canvas. Florence, Uffizi Gallery.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), The Denial of St. Peter, from 1620 to 1622. Oil on canvas, Minneapolis, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Dinner with lute playerfrom 1619 to 1620. Oil on canvas. Florence, Uffizi Gallery.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Adoration of the Shepherds, 1619-1620. Oil on canvas. Florence, Uffizi Gallery, the Vasari Corridor.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Merry Company (The Prodigal Son)1622. Oil on canvas, Bayerischen Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Cheerful violinist with glass of wine, 1623. Oil on canvas. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Cheerful violinist with glass of wine, 1623-1624. Oil on canvas. Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

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Gerrit van Honthorst - (Gherardo delle Notti) (Utrecht 1592-1656), Susanna and the Elders1655. Oil on canvas. Rome, Galleria Borghese.