The large figure of a shepherd sits before a darkening blue sky with a wide-brimmed hat shading his eyes. Resting his left arm on a staff, he holds a flute in his hand. With his right hand he gestures towards the rustic scene of a farmhouse partially obscured by ancient ruins looming behind.
The shepherd's face seems to be a realistic portrait, and Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo's detailed treatment of his clothing indicates how closely Savoldo studied his model. Whether the painting depicts a specific person is unclear. More probably, the musical shepherd was meant to idealize and celebrate the charms of pastoral life for a sophisticated urban audience. Paintings of this type became popular in Venice in the early 1500s, when pastoral poetry and drama also began to flower.