Monday, September 7, 2015

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Part of the 3rd year curriculum at Studio Incamminati includes the requirement of painting a master copy at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Students are challenged to find a master painting on exhibit, and copy it through a series of six on-site painting sessions.   I chose the "Lute Player", by Theodor Rombouts, after making several trips to examine the lighting, traffic, and narrowing down the paintings I found most interesting.

Theodor Rombouts c. 1620, Oil on Canvas

Museum Label:  "Lute players were often ridiculed for the inordinate amount of time they devoted to tuning their instruments. The intense look of this street musician seems to underscore the difficulty of the task and suggest that perhaps more than musical harmony is at stake. Showing a musical instrument being tuned was a veiled reference to striving for harmony in love. Stringed instruments could also symbolize temperance, especially when shown in the company of a tankard and a pipe, as here." 

The lute player's face instantly drew me into the painting.  His inquisitive look and the strong contrast of light and shadow on his face was the perfect challenge for me to try and capture.  I decided to restrict my study to just the face, since I knew there may not be enough time to complete all aspects of the painting in the allotted six visits (Fridays from 10am - 4pm).

I researched how make a master copy.  Several John Singer Sargent copies of Velasquez's work turned up in my research.  Sargent hung one copy he did in his studio for inspiration for many years.  

Court Dwarf Don Antonio el Ingles 1640-45
Velasquez and Sargent's Copy

Head of Aesop
Velasquez and Sargent's Copy

One of the challenges students face at Studio Incamminati is surrendering to the process.  Students come into school with their own techniques and habits.  Learning to paint like a master requires you to follow the process used by the master painters.  My approach for this piece would be just that, to follow Nelson Shanks approach he taught to the founding instructors.  I would study and copy the work as if I had a model based on the methods we've learned in school.  I could have tried to paint the piece by following my own techniques, but decided to "drink the Kool-Aid" and keep reinforcing the lessons from Studio Incamminati.

At home I prepped by doing a small sketch of the face and a simple graiselle for compositional purposes and to begin to see the light and shadow shapes by squinting.


My surface is linen on gator board (18x24) which I chose for its light weight toned with gray.  The first day was spent on the graiselle.  Block in the large shapes using straight lines and angles with a brown mix of burnt sienna and a touch of ultramarine blue.  After my first marks were made, I kept finding things to adjust to get it as close to what I was viewing as possible.    

I had no idea what to expect going to the museum to paint.  There were many people who stopped by to see what I was doing, but all were positive and friendly.  I was able to get in the zone with the help of my headphones. Who knew giving in to the Kook-Aid would turn into such an awesome experience.  I can't wait for week two!

author image

Lynn Snyder

My journey of learning to see as an artist.


  1. Thank you for such a great peek at what you are doing.. keep us posted.. Can you tell us what linen you used and how you mounted it to the gator board?

  2. I used Claessen's portrait linen with an adhesive called Miracle Muck. I prepared the surface in the same manner explained in the link. Hope that helps!

  3. I used Claessen's portrait linen with an adhesive called Miracle Muck. I prepared the surface in the same manner explained in the link. Hope that helps!