By Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen
Alte Pinakothek, Bavarian State Painting Collections
The procuress (1625) by Gerard van HonthorstCentraal Museum
The procuress can be found in several paintings by Honthorst as an old, ugly woman with a headscarf wound into a turban. Here she even becomes the titular namesake of the work. Matchmakers were responsible for the mediation of prostitutes, for example to brothels or clients. In society they were met with particular rejection, which is why they were usually portrayed in a not particularly flattering manner.
The facial expressions and gestures of the procuress depicted here point to the young woman, who is about to persuade the man sitting opposite her into business with her seductive intentions.
Despite official prohibitions, venal love flourished in metropolises such as Rome and Amsterdam. Prostitutes, as in Honthorst's work, were often nobly and colourfully dressed, and also frequented the higher social classes.
The matchmaker has apparently successfully completed her mediation: the man has already drawn his wallet and offers the prostitute some coins. The fingers of the two do not touch...
... but their hands are already united in the shadow on the lute.
It is mainly the young man's back, and only parts of his face that are visible. Due to the position of the candle, his back, which is turned towards the viewer, is darkened and only parts of his illuminated face are recognizable.
In contrast to this, the candlelight falls brightly on the young woman and illuminates her body and her low cut cleavage.
Under his arm a wick trimmer is visible, which regulated the size of the flame. In Rome prostitutes were often referred to as "cortigiana da candela", thus "courtesan of the candle", because the burning of a candle measured the length of time a client spent with the prostitute.
The lute in the hand of the prostitute plays a central role in the decoding of the work: at the time of the Utrecht Caravaggists it was regarded as a symbol of erotic harmony and the female body. It is therefore no surprise that she is playing the lute and that the shadow on the instrument reflects the entangled hands of the protagonists - it indicates the physical union of the two.
The contents were created in connection with the exhibition "Utrecht, Caravaggio and Europe" at the Alte Pinakothek München. Click here to discover the world of the Caravaggisti.