Bernardo Cavallino The Singer


Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte


17th century


630 x 750 mm


Genre Scene

historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The oval-shaped painting portrays the half figure of a young woman in a slightly turned position, as is she was turning gracefully towards her audience. The young girl with beautiful realistic features is probably singing a sweet melody. This is suggested by the details, such as her open mouth, slightly narrowed eyes and the sweet expression on her face. Her long dark hair is a bit unkempt, some strands falling behind her ear and on the shoulders, creating a sort of pleasant and naturalistic contrast with the elegant dress made of brown shiny silk, which contrasts with the red curtain behind her, which also creates the background.

The girl is moving gracefully her beautiful hands while playing with her hair, which she is braiding with a colored ribbon. The hands are in the foreground, at the height of her chest, however, not at the center of the composition, thus supporting the frontal and lateral point of view, suggested by the position of her bust, which is slightly turned.

The painting dates around mid-17th century, when Cavallino had developed a personal combination of Caravaggio’s naturalism, evident in the fresh and spontaneous realism with which he depicts the girl in a baroque-oriented style, especially in the brush strokes and use of light. These elements show that the Neapolitan painter was familiar with the colorful examples of the new Venetian painters but also with the work of Dutch painters, such as Antoon Van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens, to whom the painting was incorrectly attributed in the inventory of the Prince of San Giorgio.

The painting in question is probably the same that Benedetto Castellano - whose name is written on the backside of the painting – sold to the Royal Museum of the Bourbon family – the palace of Capodimonte – in March 1855 for 180 ducats. At that time the painting was attributed to Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribeira and the figure identified as penitent Magdalene “without ornaments and rich clothing, half-figure”. The oval painting was then attributed to Bernardo Cavallino by Roberto Longhi, while in the 1950s’ Ferdinando Bologna identified the correct subject and assumed that the painting could be the pendant work of the Harpsichord Player, preserved at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. Bologna also dated the work around mid-17th century. Based on these hypotheses, which critics still tend to confirm today, it has been suggested that the two paintings may represent the personifications of sung and played music, according to an iconography that was documented by Cesare Ripa in his famous Iconologia from 1593.

Artist Details

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Little is known about the life of Bernardo Cavallino, whose works are mostly preserved in private collections in Naples.

He trained in his hometown with Baroque painter Andrea Vaccaro, who introduced him to the paintings of Massimo Stanzione, linked to the classicist culture, which was brought to the city by Emilian painters, such as Guido Reni, who was inspired by the works of Annibale Carracci. However, Cavallino was also particularly attracted to the opposite style to the Carracci classicism, to Caravaggism, which in the 1630s’ was still alive and well in Naples among the followers of Caravaggio.

In fact, the dark tones of his works recall the works of Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, and of those painters who joined his pictorial revolution in the use of contrasts of lights. However, his large and theatrical compositions which were often cut diagonally were more linked to the Baroque culture, therefore closer to the so-called classicist style of the Carracci.

In other words, the Neapolitan artist seemed to combine these two artistic styles while continuing to use his completely personal style, which was also influenced by the work of Artemisia Gentileschi. The painter of Tuscan origins stayed in Naples between 1630 and 1637 and she died there in 1653. Equally important influence for Cavallini’s work was Rubens and his use of colors, which led him to lighten his palette compared to the dark tones of Caravaggio.

Cavallino died in Naples at just forty years old, probably of plague.

Collection Details

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The collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.

In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.

The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.

The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.

During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.

In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.

Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.

For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.

The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.