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The Locksmith

This is a rare - if not unique - instance of a locksmith being portrayed alone in a relatively large painting. In the nineteenth century the picture was described as the 'famous Bolognese Locksmith' and later as the 'Locksmith of Antwerp'; it is doubtful, however, that it represents a specific individual. It more likely relates to the representation of a locksmith in the series of prints of Le Arti di Bologna - a group of engravings depicting various trades, after designs by Annibale Carracci. It is unclear if we are in front of a straightforward genre painting, or if a further meaning was envisaged. It has been suggested that the picture could be related to a contemporary Neapolitan proverb: 'Chiave incinto, Martino dinto' ('You can lock up your wife / daughter and keep the key on your belt, but her lover will get in'). Locksmiths were also seen as shady characters because not only did they make locks and keys, but were also said to provide thieves with all the help they needed in picking locks and in forging keys. The attribution remains uncertain. The painting was bought by Bourgeois and Desenfans as a Caravaggio, and later attributed to Pietro della Vecchia, Ribera and then to Luca Giordano. It seems, however, that the Locksmith was painted by a Neapolitan follower of Ribera: the picture is similar in format and size to Ribera's Five Senses - in particular Smell - which were painted before 1620, and the painterly rendering of the hands in particular is close to the Spanish master.

Not currently on display

132.3 x 99.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number