In the present composition, a young musician, dressed in a vivid shirt of black and gold cloth and wearing a jaunty feathered cap, plays a lively tune on his flute. A book of sheet music is open on the table in front of him, yet he stares directly out at the viewer, as though meeting our curious gaze. The neutral background and close bounds of the frame all serve to bring the subject closer to the picture plane and thus toward the observer's space.
There are several known versions of the present composition, including a canvas sold at Christie's, London, 3 March 1961, lot 162 (as 'Terbrugghen'), one sold at Dordrecht, 23 March 1915, lot 13 (as 'school of Judith Lijster') and a version measuring 62 x 53 cm., present location unknown. The version sold at Dordrecht was offered with a pendant, a copy of the Boy Musician presently in the collection of the Centraal Museum, Utrecht. Given the high quality of the brushwork and masterful tenebrism of the present painting, it is entirely possible that it is the original, lost pendant to the Utrecht canvas.
Dirck van Baburen was one of the earliest and most famous of the Utrecht Caravaggisti. He spent just over a decade in Italy working with David de Haen on such important commissions as The Entombment, still hanging above the altar in the Pietà Chapel of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome. Baburen painted his first theatrical musician upon his return to Utrecht around 1622, establishing an important pictorial type that would be depicted by a wide range of Dutch artists, among them Hendrick ter Bruggen, Gerrit van Honthorst, and Abraham Bloemaert. He is known for having maintained the earthiness of Caravaggio, a quality diluted in successive generations of the Utrecht Caravaggisti and one seen here in the ruddiness of the boy's hands and face and the rumpled pages of the book.