Musical Party in a Garden
73.7 cm x 99 cm (29 in. x 39 in.)
Giovanni Battista Passeri
(Rome, Italy, 1610/1616 - 1679, Rome, Italy)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
With its open courtyard littered with fragments of ancient sculpture and bathed in Mediterranean light, the setting here is typical of a garden on the outskirts of Rome. The gentleman at right in contemporary attire introduces the viewer to the party. The woman in the blue mantle, the man in the orange tunic, and the semiclad piper seem engaged in a musical performance of classical inspiration. The group of women in modern costume accompanies them on a spinet. At left two servants ready a table for dining.
The meaning of the scene is ambiguous. It may be an Italian version of popular garden scenes depicting the prodigal son as he squanders “his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15). It may also reflect the ideal of a Roman pleasure garden where the classical past and the fashionable present are harmoniously brought together. This pictorial riddle corresponds to Giovanni Battista Passeri’s intellectual character; he was not only a painter but also a writer who authored a collection of biographies of thirty-six painters that offers a lively account of the Italian art scene of the seventeenth century. The Blanton’s painting is one of the very few surviving paintings by the artist.