Gerard van Honsthorst was born in Utrecht in the Netherlands in 1590, the son of a textile painter and tapestry cartoonist. Like many Dutch painters of his day, he studied in Italy, where he became known as Gherardo delle Notti, or “Gerard of the Night Scenes,” because his figures often depicted dark figures in the night.
Van Honsthorst was apprenticed to Abraham Bloemaert, the most celebrated master in Utrecht, with whom he probably made the trip to Italy between 1610 and 1615. During his stay in Italy, Van Honthorst was influenced by Caravaggio, who was at his height. He copied his technique and spread it in the Netherlands. His school is referred to as the Utrecht caravaggists.
The main body of his work consists of commissions for religious paintings, many from his Italian period, such as The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (S. Maria delle Scala, Rome), Christ Before the High Priest (c. 1617, National Gallery, London), and the Supper Party (1620, Uffizi, Florence), all nocturnal scenes.
Van Honsthorst was appointed dean of the Utrecht painter’s guild in 1625 and remained in office for many years. Van Honthorst’s fame soon spread, and in 1628 he was invited to work in London at the court of King Charles I, but returned in less than a year.
He married Sophia Coopmans in 1622 and died a rich man in 1656.