The Lute Player (Caravaggio)

One wonders if those soft
dreamy eyes could murder?
Would he have already seen
Ranuccio Tomassoni bleeding
on the streets? As he sat there blankly
watching on while his master
delicately plied his brush,
what tune beyond the Florentine’s
sole text by Petrarch’s “Laisse le voile
would he have played; his white neck
exposed, that chest so wide, those fingers
so deftly placed and moving; each element
of the scene an almost perfect motion
of light to sound as if that reflection
in the vase – measured by some scientist –
maybe Giovanni Battista della Porta
whose De Refractione Optices would speak
of glass spheres and light as if it were some living thing
that changes as it moves
upon the emptiness of things? One sees
the sunwise marigold, the cornflower eye
in yellow dress, an eyebright for tears
to clear, the rainbow hues that blend
in prismatic light after Porta’s ‘De Iride et colore’;
iris seedpods, wrinkled florets: each a simple ingredient
of that Paracelsian art of his patron, Cardinal Francesco Del Monte,
in whose alchemical Casino this would reside
surrounded by Neptune, Jupiter and Pluto
with that god of light beyond and facing, Apollo,
ever-young as this young treasure playing
his various songs in delight of him. The balance
of sky and earth travel from the curved sphere
to ceiling and back, a white rose and jasmine,
a small daisy dipping down toward
that darkness that obscures all below us even now.

Steven Craig Hickman ©2014 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: the painting by Caravaggio has a unique history in that it was copied three times by him over time, with the final version satisfying the patron where it was placed in an alchemical laboratory or basilica. (see


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