Digital Art History and Honthorst’s Nickname
In an article just out in Source: Notes in the History of Art (pre-print PDF), I discuss the surprising answer to a seemingly-tiny question that arose during my fellowship last year at the National Gallery of Art’s office of Northern Baroque paintings, as we were preparing to publish research on the recent acquisition of Gerrit van Honthorst’s The Concert.
From the intro to the paper:
According to most modern scholarship, it was during his time in Italy that Honthorst earned the nickname “Gherardo delle Notti,” or “Gerrit of the nights,” because of his talent for rendering dramatic nighttime images… The attentive reader will notice, however, that none of these texts credit the nickname to a contemporary source. When did Honthorst actually earn this name? An investigation of archival sources suggests that “Gherardo delle Notti” may not be nearly as contemporary as has been assumed.
In this post, I’d like to illuminate some of the digital roots of this research.
The Getty Provenance Index®, J. Paul Getty Trust holds over 270,000 individual art records from 5,200 European archival inventory records made between 1550 and 1840. A search for records attributed to the artist Gerrit van Honthorst returns 126 entries with full transcriptions.
References to Honthorst can be roughly divided into four categories:
||“Gerrit van Honthorst” or variant|
||“Gherardo Fiammingo” or “Gherardo Olandese”|
||“Gherardo delle notti” or variant|
||Some other name, or as “Gherardo” only|
Hand-classifying these names allows us to visualize how the use of different nicknames for Honthorst evolved over time:
Of all the nickname types, variations on “Gherardo delle notti” are the only ones that exclusively appear after his death (and, as I discuss in the article, the very first mention may not even specifically be to Honthorst!) While only Dutch inventories used his Dutch name, it appears that Italians either used “Gherardo” only, or referred to him by his nationality (“Gherardo Fiammingo” or “Gherardo Olandese”). Variations on “Gherardo delle notti” did not become truly popular until the eighteenth century. The evidence undermines the conventional wisdom that it was Honthorst’s contemporaries in Rome that came up with the nickname “delle notti”.
Without the digitized index of archival records hosted by the Getty, this kind of synthetic analysis would have been ridiculously time-consuming.