Flemish School, circa 1675
- A picture gallery with an allegory of Peace
- oil on canvas
From which acquired by the present owner in 1986.
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The present painting should be viewed as an allegorical rather than an actual depiction of a picture gallery. No collectors or art dealers or famous painters stroll beneath the works. Instead we are presented with two allegorical figures: that of Plenty stands on the left, beside her three putti bearing a cornucopia, symbol of her largesse, laden with fruits. Seated beside her is a personification of Pictura or Painting identified by the palette she holds. The statues and books on the table beside her as well as the musical instrument below imply a wider embodiment of the Arts in general. The allegory is clearly intended as one of Peace or the effects of Peace, for in the lower right hand corner of the gallery, discarded in a pile, are the accoutrements of war. From the upper left hand corner descends a putto carrying a laurel wreath, symbol of victory, with which to crown the figures below. This message is extended to the paintings hanging behind the figures: those on the left, with martial subjects such as the Rape of Proserpine no doubt intended to contrast with the lounging Silenus or the Amor triumphant over symbols of war beneath.
Unfortunately the collection of paintings represented here cannot be identified with any known collection from this period. Only two of the pictures can in fact be identified with any certainty. The most important of these, right in the centre of the picture, is the Landscape with women and cattle by the Flemish painter Jan Siberechts (1627-1703), today in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. The original by Siberechts is signed and dated 1670, thus providing a terminus post quem for the present work. Unfortunately it is not known to whom the Siberechts belonged so early in its existence. In the top left hand corner is a Rape of Proserpine which reflects a lost original by Rubens, destroyed by fire when in the collection of the Dukes of Marlborough at Blenheim in the 19th century. Again, it is not known by whom the original Rubens was commissioned or where it may have hung. The probable authors of many of the other paintings can also be guessed at. The largest group of these can, for example, be associated with the designs or workshop of Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626-1679). These include the Four Continents in the lower left hand corner, and the series of eight paintings surrounding the central doorway depicting Studies of insects, two garlands of flowers and four works showing animals including lions and lionesses, and the Seal with saltwater fish as well as two other still lifes beside the doorway to the right. The larger canvas to the left of the door depicts Diana resting after the hunt with many elements reminiscent of the Flemish animal-painter Pieter Boel (1622-1674), while its counterpart of Amor triumphant over war reflects designs by earlier painters such as Thomas Willeboirts (1614-1654) or Jan Boeckhorst (1605-1668). The large Silenus in the upper right hand corner reflects an engraving after a work by Jusepe de Ribera from 1628.1 The various marine paintings and landscapes that adorn the walls around these larger works are perhaps intended only as generic representations of certain types of Flemish paintings, very much in the style, for example of the Antwerp-based Peeters family of painters. The painting in the foreground resting against the easel depicts the story of the Jewish Old Testament heroine Judith with the head of Holofernes, and is a copy in reverse after a famous original by Paolo Veronese, then in the collections of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.2 The Allegory on the easel itself remains as yet unidentified.
The identity of the author of this imposing canvas has been the subject of considerable debate. The architecture and setting of the gallery are the work of one hand while the figures and the still life elements are by on eof not tow further painters. The date after 1670 and the typically grandiose architectural features led Herman Voss and others to suggest an attribution to the Antwerp painter Wihelm van Ehrenberg (1630-1676) with the foreground figures the work of his frequent collaborator Charles Emmanuel Biset (1633-1710). More recently an attribution for the whole work to Jan van Kessel the Elder has been proposed by Dott.ssa Laura Laureati (private communication, May 2011). Van Kessel certainly painted gallery subjects of this type, both on a small scale such as the Allegory of Europe on copper of 1670 sold, New York, Sotheby's, 30 January 1997, lot 16, or on a larger scale such as the Allegory of Africa on canvas of 1672 sold, London, Sotheby's, 9 December 2004, lot 119. Certainly the large number of works on the walls by or after Van Kessel, as well as the accoutrements of war in the foreground which are very similar to him in style, would suggest that he or his studio may have had a role in both the gallery decoration and the still ife elements in this painting. More recently it has also been suggested that the setting may be the work of Gaspard de Witte (1624-1681), who worked with Hieronymous Janssens(?) on a large Interior of a picture gallery recently on the Brussels art market.3 Two other large picture galleries in the Musée Girdoet in Montargis, in which the settings are by him are also now attributed to his hand.4
1. Now in Naples, Museo di Capodimonte; reproduced in N. Spinosa, Ribera, Madrid 2008, p. 353, no. A85.
2. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. As it is in reverse of the original, this version may reflect the copy made of the original by David Teniers the Younger for his Theatrum Pictorum, a pictorial record of the Archduke's collection.
3. Canvas, 115 by 169 cm; anonymous sale, Brussels, Servarts, 20 November 2000, lot 250.
4. Inv. nos. 874.62 and 63. The first was exhibited, Paris, Grand Palais, Le Siècle de Rubens dans les collections publiques françaises, 1977-78, no. 63 (as Hieronymous Janssens).