Hendrick ter Brugghen excelled at capturing the rhythms of music in the very way he composed his paintings. In this remarkable image a bagpipe player, seen in strict profile, squeezes the leather bag between his forearms as he blows through the instrument’s pipe and fingers a tune on the chanter. Two large drones, composed of different wooden sections, rest on his bare shoulder. The interlocking rhythms of this ensemble—the broad, round shapes of the musician’s shoulder, beret, and brown bagpipe bag; the flowing patterns of folds in his creamy shirt and taupe robe; the pronounced diagonals of the drones and pipe; and the verticality of the chanter—parallel those of a musical score. Ter Brugghen’s _Bagpipe Player_ should be seen as part of a broad cultural interest in depictions of the idyllic pleasures of country existence, particularly as experienced through music. Ter Brugghen fully embraced this theme in a series of paintings of musicians and singers that capture both the joy and the sensuality of life.
The specific character of this painting, depicting a single, larger-than-life-size musician against a plain grayish ocher background, owes much to the influence of Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656) and Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595–1624), Dutch Caravaggist painters who returned to Utrecht from Rome in 1620. They brought with them a new sensuous style appropriate for expressing the idealized concepts of arcadian subject matter that they adapted from paintings by Caravaggio (1571–1610) and his followers. In 1624 Ter Brugghen painted no fewer than five separate compositions devoted to music, featuring not only bagpipe players but also musicians—sometimes singing—who play the lute and the violin. He continued this interest in the years to follow.