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Musicians
Giuseppe Maria Crespi
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In this slender painting, three musicians play their instruments – a large triangle with rings, a recorder and a lyre. None of them look out at the viewer, and two actually turn away, a pose for which Crespi was well known. A turbaned man pulling his horse by the bridle looms over the trio. To the left, in almost complete darkness, are three soldiers, with several more on horseback behind them.

Crespi’s use of dazzling light and deep shadow leads us through this nocturnal scene, from the lower musician’s crossed legs to the captivated child on the left, up to the upper bodies of the main figures and the forearm thrust out above them. He applied thick paint in the lightest areas, creating luminous effects in the white sleeves and exposed skin of the musicians, with thinner layers in shadowed areas. The palette is predominantly made up of earthy tones – warm reds and browns – with touches of off-white.

Key facts
Artist Giuseppe Maria Crespi
Artist dates 1665 - 1747
Full title Musicians
Series Two Peasant Scenes
Date made about 1710-15
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 100.8 x 50.1 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6626
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings after 1600
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Two Peasant Scenes

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Peasants with Donkeys and its companion painting Musicians are intimate scenes of peasant life, observed by night as if we ourselves are part of the action. Both make use of a warm, earthy palette and lively, loose brushwork to bring the figures they depict to life. The two pictures probably date from between 1710 and 1715, shortly after Crespi’s stay in Florence.

These pictures were formerly thought to be fragments of a single composition, perhaps an Old Testament subject. Close examination of the canvases, however, has shown that they were part of two separate, though related, works. Both have at some point been cut down at the left and top edges, and it is impossible to know how large they originally were. They are slightly different sizes but the similarities in the scale of the figures, the range of colour and the lively brushstrokes suggest that they must have been intended to hang together.

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