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David Teniers the Younger (Antwerp 1610-Brussels 1690)

The Virgin and Child c.1650-59

Oil on panel | 17.0 x 23.3 x 0.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 400932

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  • Archduke Leopold William, Philip IV’s cousin, was governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647 to 1656 and had one of the most important collections of Italian old master paintings in Europe. Some of his acquisitions were made in London at the sale of Charles I’s collection (the so-called Commonwealth Sales of 1649-53), with Teniers acting as his agent. Teniers was also commissioned in 1650 to prepare for publication a catalogue of the best of Leopold’s pictures. The resignation of the Archduke as governor of the Netherlands in 1656 and his return to Vienna greatly complicated and retarded work on the project, which was eventually completed with the publication in 1660, at Teniers’s own expense, of the Theatrum Pictorium. This famous work contains prints of 243 Italian paintings within the collection, with captions giving the author and dimensions of the original; this was the first illustrated collection catalogue ever produced. In the third edition the title page states that the work is ‘of use for all lovers of the art of painting’. The paintings themselves have almost all remained in Vienna, where they formed the core of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

    Though it is possible to create small prints after large paintings, Teniers elected to paint miniature oil sketches of every work, each of identical scale to the engraving. These postcard pastiches, of which this painting is one of two in the collection (see CWLF 106, 400693), are brilliant exercises in compression but also in stylistic parody. They must have meant more to Teniers than merely performing the mechanical task of scale reduction.

    At the same time that he was involved in the Theatrum Pictorum, Teniers produced a series of ten spectacular ‘picture gallery ensembles’ (examples in the Prado, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and Petworth House) of highlights of the collection (again all Italian pictures) brought together into an ideal interior, rather as Archduke Leopold William did in his Gallery in Brussels. These works are the supreme examples of that Flemish speciality, the gallery interior. It may have been in part for these works that Teniers executed his individual pastiches - for they do require that the style of the paintings-within-a-painting is convincingly suggested, even if in postage-stamp format.

    Both the Theatrum Pictorum and the gallery scenes demonstrate the extraordinary reverence with which the Italian old masters were regarded. It is perhaps significant that in 1660, the year of publication of the Theatrum, the States of Holland and Friesland presented to the newly restored Charles II a collection of paintings which they had bought from a Dutch merchant, Jan Reynst. The collection was made up of Italian and not Dutch painting, as one might have expected. A collection of prints after every one of them - in effect another Theatrum Pictorum - was executed to mark the occasion.

    Catalogue entry adapted from Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting, London, 2007

    Acquired by Frederick Prince of Wales by 1750

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel


    17.0 x 23.3 x 0.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    32.0 x 37.7 x 4.8 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    The Holy Family