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The Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player
La Tour, Georges de
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La Tour, Georges de

Vic-sur-Seille, 1593 - Luneville, 1652

The Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player

1620 - 1630. Oil on canvas, 86 x 62.5 cm.

The blind man appears in profile playing his hurdy-gurdy, a stringed instrument with which he earns his living. Despite his miserable state, La Tour depicts him with considerable dignity, dressed in a cape that hides a chestnut vest and salmon-colored trousers. His face shows the mark of time, with tanned skin, deep wrinkles and an unkempt beard. His strong hands seem out of place for a musician but may recall the work he did before losing his sight. Amidst all of this roughness, the artist surprises us with a delicate yellow ribbon wound around the lower part of the instrument to bind the top of the wheel moved by the crank in his right hand. The space in the background is divided into three sections by clearly delineated oblique lines. The left section is practically black and is precisely the part that brings out the musician’s face, sharply silhouetting his features and reinforcing his solitude. The close physical resemblances between all of the beggar musicians painted by La Tour, as well as the one in the Musicians’ Brawl in Los Angeles, suggest that the artist drew repeatedly on a model over a long period.

Ever since it was discovered, specialists have accepted Pierre Rosenberg’s theory that this is a fragment of a larger painting that presented the blind musician in a position similar to the one in the picture that hangs in Nantes. However, there is nothing in this work to confirm that idea. In fact, La Tour frequently did half-length paintings of single figures -either standing, like the Albi Apostles or sitting, like the Magdalene at the Mirror, which is known through a print. She, too, appears in three-quarters with her face in profile. Moreover, the striking foreground in the Prado’s painting is perfectly congruent with the latter compositions, in which La Tour eliminated accessory or trivial elements to offer a more intense and transcendent view of the subject.

La Tour portrays a real scene in which a blind man earns his living by playing the hurdy-gurdy. They sometimes sang their poems as well, if they had that skill, and they were frequently accompanied by a small dog that danced to their music. One such dog appears indifferent to his master’s music in the version in Bergues. Curiously, all of La Tour’s depictions of blind musicians except the one at the Prado have been attributed to Spanish painters at some point, despite the fact that, as Sebastián Covarrubias noted in his Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española (Treasure of the Castilian or Spanish Language, Madrid, 1611), for his contemporaries the hurdy-gurdy was an instrument of poor Frenchmen.

Blind hurdy-gurdy players often appear in La Tour’s paintings, although they vary too much to be considered copies of each other. Some are full-length depictions of standing musicians, sometimes with their little dogs, like the abovementioned work in Bergues; others, including those in Nantes and the one at the Musée Charles Friry in Remiremont, are fulllength images of a seated musician accompanying his singing with the hurdy-gurdy. The Prado’s work is undoubtedly La Tour’s last depiction of a blind musician and also his last-known daylight painting. The time that separates these works in his career sheds some light on his stylistic evolution. The earliest known version is the one in Bergues, which Jean-Pierre Cuzin described as austere and tragic, as the artist did nothing to hide the model’s wretched state and shabby clothing. The Prado’s painting reflects an entirely different sensibility. In its lyricism, it is closer to other contemporary works, such as Saint Joseph the Carpenter and The Dream of Saint Joseph, which are certainly among his most poetic images. Other artists from Lorraine, including Jacques Bellange and Jacques Callot, made etchings of this subject, but their relationship to La Tour’s paintings has yet to be convincingly established (Text drawn from Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: Georges de La Tour. 1593-1652, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016, p. 144).

Check the encyclopaedia


Technical data

Inventory number
La Tour, Georges de
The Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player
1620 - 1630
High/Height: 86 cm.; Width: 62.5 cm.
Acquired for the Museo del Prado, with funds from the Villaescusa Legacy, 1992.

Bibliography +

A la rencontre de Georges de la Tour. Colloque de Vic-sur-Seille, 27 mai 1989, 1989.

Rosenberg, Pierre, ''Un nouveau de La Tour''. En: Scritti in onore di Giuliano Briganti, Longanesi, Miilan, 1990, pp. 169-178.

Rosenberg, Pierre, An unpublished composition by Georges de La Tour, The Burlington magazine, 1991, pp. 703-705.

Subasta del 13 de diciembre de 1991, Christie's London, 1991, pp. 90-91, nº54.

Rosenberg, Pierre, Georges de la Tour, París, 1992, pp. 42-43, nº14.

Thuillier, J, Georges de La Tour, Flammarion, Paris, 1992.

Rosenberg, P.; Mojana, M., Georges de La Tour. Catalogo completo dei dipinti, Cantini, Florencia, 1992, pp. 42-43, nº 14.

Chone,P. Ternois,D. Depluvrez,J-M., Jacques Callot 1592-1635, Éditions Réunion des M.Nationaux, Paris, 1992, pp. nº 95.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Un mecenas póstumo: el legado Villaescusa : adquisiciones 19, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1993, pp. 52-57.

Buendía, José Rogelio, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 495.

Gallego, Antonio, Las zanfonas de La Tour. En: Los músicos de Georges de la Tour 1593-1652, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1994, pp. 59-64.

Luna, Juan J., Los músicos de Georges de La Tour 1593-1652, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1994, pp. 81-82, nº5.

Luna,Juan J., Guía actualizada del Prado, Alfiz, Madrid, 1995.

Últimas adquisiciones: 1982-1995, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1995, pp. 139.

Conisbee, P, Georges de La Tour and his world, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1996, pp. 64.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996.

Benito Olmos, Aurora, Arte y Musica en el Museo del Prado, Fundacion Argentaria Visor, Madrid, 1997, pp. 134.

Cuzin,J.P. Rosenberg, P. Thuillier,J., Georges de La Tour, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1997, pp. 210, nº41.

Castillo-Ojugas, Antonio, Una visita médica al Museo del Prado, You & Us, Madrid, 1998, pp. 54.

Caravaggio y la pintura realista europea, Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, 2005.

De Tiziano a Goya. Grandes maestros del Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado SEACEX, Madrid, 2007, pp. 259.

Muñoz Molina, Antonio, Hermosura y luz no usada: un tocador de zanfona de Georges de La Tour. En: Los pintores de lo real, Galaxia Gutenberg; Círculo de Lectores, Barcelona, 2008, pp. 239-54.

El Prado en el Hermitage, Museo Estatal del Hermitage; Museo Nacional del Prado, 2011, pp. 104-105.

Thuillier, Jacques, Georges de La Tour, Flammarion, 2012, pp. 82-83.

Mena Marqués, M.B., 'Música y baile. Romances de ciegos' En:, Mena Marques,Manuela B. Goya en Madrid : cartones para tapices 1775-1794, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2014, pp. 186-191 [190 f.4.24].

Santos Bueso, Enrique., Oftalmología en el Museo del Prado, Gertograf, 2015, pp. 14.

Ubeda, Andrés, 'Georges de La Tour. Ciego tocando la zanfonía' En:, Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2016, pp. 144-145 n.24.

Melikian, Souren, A tale of two collectors, Art & Auction, pp. 80 y 82.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (desde 1856). Núm. 2270.
Autor: Georges de la Tour / 2270. Título: Ciego tocando la zanfonia. /Tipo de obra: pintura / Medidas: 0,847 X 0,610 m /Nº de catálogo: P-07613 / Observaciones: Adquirido por el Museo en la subasta de Christie's celebrada en Londres el 13-XII-1991 (LOTE Nº 54), en 360.769.189 pts con fondos de la herencia Villaescusa. / Ingresó en el Museo el 17-I-1992''

Exhibitions +

Georges de La Tour. 1593 - 1652
23.02.2016 - 12.06.2016

Goya en Madrid. Cartones para tapices (1775-1794)
28.11.2014 - 03.05.2015

Goya in Madrid
28.11.2014 - 03.05.2015

El Prado en el Hermitage
San Petersburgo
25.02.2011 - 29.05.2011

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
13.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
29.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

Caravaggio y la pintura realista europea
06.10.2005 - 15.01.2006

Georges de la Tour
29.09.1997 - 26.01.1998

Georges de la Tour and his world; masterpieces in focus
Fort Worth
01.02.1997 - 10.05.1997

Georges de la Tour and his world; masterpieces in focus
Washington D.C.
06.10.1996 - 05.01.1997

L´art en Lorraine au temps de Jacques Callot
13.06.1992 - 21.09.1992

Location +

Room 007 (On Display)

Update date: 14-10-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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