The Cello in Art (2) – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Corot: Le Moine au violoncelle (1874)

There is something immeasurably sad about Corot’s Monk with a Violoncello, one of his last works.  But then, none of his several portraits of monks shows one in a state of religious ecstasy.  They’re totally absorbed in the seriousness of their own contemplation.  Somehow all of these paintings seem anachronistic for the mid-to-late 19th century.

        Le Moine au violoncelle is also an odd painting because, unlike the others below, the monk is given no context.  Why is he playing alone, in an empty room?  Is he practising?  What is he practising?  Would he normally be part of his monastery’s chapelle, accompanying hymns or psalms or other parts of the liturgy?  Was his repertoire purely sacred?  If he really is a cellist, then he must have some ability, as he’s playing in a high position on the fingerboard.  By the looks of him, he’s a Franciscan monk, so maybe he’s playing to the birds from his cell …


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