Characterized by his painterly style and exuberant broad brushstrokes, Dirck van Baburen was a leading member of the Utrecht Caravaggisti–a group of Utrecht artists who moved to Rome in the early seventeenth century, and upon their return, introduced the dramatic chiaroscuro and intense realism of Caravaggio to the North Netherlands. Until around 1620, the opulent mannerist paintings of Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) and Abraham Bloemaert (1566–1651) prevailed in the predominantly Catholic city of Utrecht, while the progressive Italianate influence since the late sixteenth century had been primarily Venetian.
Fewer than forty autograph works are known by Baburen, whose untimely death at the age of thirty brought an abrupt end to his career. In 1612/1613, the nineteen-year-old Baburen left the studio of Paulus Moreelse (1571–1638) for Italy and spent most of his time there in Rome. Following the death of Caravaggio in 1610, the decade of Baburen’s arrival in the Eternal City witnessed the apogee of the Caravaggesque movement in Rome, owing to the popularity of his novel style, both among patrons and the influx of talent who practiced it: notably, Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652) from Spain and Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582–1622) from Lombardy. With few exceptions, most of the 14 works dated from Baburen’s prized Roman period consist of religious subjects, highlighted by prestigious commissions such as the altarpiece of the Pietà Chapel of San Pietro in Montorio for Pietro Cussida, a Spanish diplomat and art collector who was also the patron for Ribera's celebrated Five Senses series circa 1615–16. After his return to Utrecht, Baburen worked closely and possibly shared a studio with Hendrick Terbrugghen (1588–1629). Baburen is also comparable to Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656), whose early works are Caravaggesque with a specialization in nocturnal light effects. All of the Utrecht Caravaggesti were capable of a caricatural crudeness of expression, especially when back in the Netherlands. On his return to Utrecht, Baburen veered away from purely religious subjects towards allegories and genre scenes, especially those with concerts and single musical figures, which became part of his circle’s standard repertoire.
Top Auction Results for Dirck van Baburen
Granida and Daifilo
Sold for $1,040,000
New York, Sotheby’s, 29 January 2020, Master Painting Evening Sale, lot 46
Achilles preparing to avenge the death of Patroclus
Sold for $937,000
New York, Christie’s, 4 October 2007, Old Master Paintings, lot 132