This beautifully preserved copper is the only known signed painting by Bartolomeus Grondonck, a painter of landscapes in early 17th
century Flanders who was much influenced by Hans Bol and Jan Brueghel the Elder. This painting is however indebted to a greater degree by David Vinckboons, and in particular to his celebrated composition of 1602, known to us today through his detailed drawing in the print room of the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen.1
It is a peculiarity that Vinckboons’ best-known composition is one that exists today, in primary source at least, only through a signed drawing rather than a painting, but the composition was so popular in its day, and so influential, that it was widely reproduced by engravers, and their engravings widely copied by painters, for several decades after its inception. The composition was engraved by Nicolas de Bruyn (Hollstein, IV, 171) and Boetuis Adams Bolswert (Hollstein, III, 320) and, like all the known painted versions, the present work follows the direction of the engraving rather than the drawing or lost painting. A later version of the print was published in Amsterdam by Claes Jansz. Visscher in 1634, testament to the lasting popularity of the design. While many of the figures and figure-groups are directly lifted from Vinckboons’ original, Grondonck has allowed himself an element of freedom in the mise-en-scène
, with the figures less cramped in a roomier town square, several of them omitted, others adapted, and some seemingly of his own invention.
Through animated works like this it is not difficult to imagine the cacophony that characterised such kermesses, this one about to grow louder and more varied by the line of people queuing up at the musical instrument stall in the centre. The scene itself contrasts the innocence of childhood and its self-made fun with the excess and debauchery of those children’s parents, as any self-respecting Flemish kermesse ought to. In front of a staged comedy stands a small group of onlookers, several gesticulating madly at the actors, while to its right two women urge their men not to get involved in a brawl. A young man relieves himself by the doorpost to the inn while a group of children pile themselves on top of each other, upside-down, sideways and any-which-way, as the warm afternoon descends into a haze of merriment.
For a long time the painting has been known as the Kermesse of Oudenaarde because the elaborate building in the central middle ground resembles, and is probably based upon, the town hall in Oudenaarde, south of Ghent. Other nomenclatures are the Peasant’s kermesse, a literal translation of the inscription on the red flag, ‘Die Boere kermis’, and Sebastiaanskermis, presumably on the basis of the figure depicted on the same flag, which may or may not be intended as St. Sebastian.
1. See K. Goossens, David Vinckboons, Soest 1977, reproduced p. 64, fig. 30.