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A Scholar Expounding

A Scholar Expounding, c. 1610-20

"Master of the Lute Player"
Italian, 17th century
Oil on canvas
51 x 38-1/8 in. (129.5 x 96.8 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

With parted lips and furrowed eyebrows, this scholar appears to be caught in an engaging discussion at his desk. His rhetorical gesture of pinching his left index finger with his right hand signifies that he is explaining an idea or theory. The celestial globe, quill, inkstand and stack of books evidence his passion for knowledge. Other details of his disheveled appearance, such as his dirty fingernails, untied collar and unraveling clothes suggest he is disinterested by trivial, material matters.

The contrast between bright light and darkness in this painting is known as chiaroscuro. The technique was made famous by the Italian painter Caravaggio in the early 17th century and was closely emulated by many of his followers. Although this painter’s identity remains unknown, art historians connect A Scholar Expounding to a portrait of a lute player from the same period. These works were likely created by the same artist, who is now simply referred to as the “Master of the Lute Player.”

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