Among the documents is a copy of The London Gazette, a publication that was initiated in 1666, having started as The Oxford Gazette in 1665. Its inclusion provides a terminus post quem for the painting, despite the date of 1653, which appears on the central letter, and the MDCLVII (1657) on the Almanac. This Almanac is virtually identical to that, also dated 1657 and from Liège, which appears in Gysbrechts' painting of 1665, sold at Sotheby's, New York, 3 June 2010, lot 52. Edwaert Collier, to whom the present painting was previously attributed, painted The London Gazette in several compositions, folded in half in this manner, though only from 1693, meaning that this work may well be the earliest painted image of the oldest English newspaper. Curiously, there is no record of Gysbrechts ever having travelled to England.
Having been employed as motifs since Antiquity, in the decoration at Pompeii for example, illusionistic wall cupboards or niches were subjects that gained considerable popularity in the Renaissance, particularly in intarsia (mosaic woodwork) decoration, and were again addressed in the mid-17th century by artists such as Samuel van Hoogstraten, whose paintings of illusionary windows and cabinets undoubtedly provided inspiration for Gysbrechts in works such as the present painting.
The market for trompe-l’œils grew in strength in the second half of the 17th century and Gysbrechts himself developed the genre to an unprecedented degree, producing ever more complex compositions and astonishing, original motifs, particularly during his employment at the Danish court between 1668–72 under the patronage of Kings Frederik III and Christian V. While there, Gysbrechts executed twenty-two trompe-l’œil paintings for the royal Kunstkammer and Rosenborg Castle – works designed to deceive and delight the visitor to the home of rulers fascinated by both science and art – including an illusionistic easel, a painting representing the reverse of a framed canvas, and a trompe-l’œil cabinet with actual hinges and keyhole that can really be opened.2
1 Signed and dated 1665; see O. Koester, Painted Illusions. The Art of Cornelius Gijsbrechts, exh. cat., London 2000, p. 40, reproduced in colour p. 41, fig. 12.
2 All in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. nos KMS5, KMS1989 and KMS3076, respectively; see O. Koester et al., Illusions. Gijsbrechts Royal Master of Deception, exh. cat., Copenhagen 1999, pp. 164–67, cat. no. 12; pp. 176–79, cat. no. 15; and pp. 206–07, cat. no. 29, all reproduced in colour.
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