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Jacob de Formentrou (active Antwerp 1640-59)

A Cabinet of Pictures Signed and dated 1659

Oil on canvas | 75.3 x 112.1 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 404084

Cumberland Art Gallery, Lobby, Hampton Court Palace

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  • This classic example of the picture gallery interior shows clearly how the genre depends upon a series of tiny thumbnail parodies of the styles of different artists. So convincing are the separate paintings here that the work as a whole has been thought to be a collaboration, each painter ‘being himself’, as occurred in the (now lost) painting Allegory of Sight, (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid) executed by a group of artists under the supervision of Jan Brueghel for the Archdukes Albert and Isabella. A detailed technical analysis of the pictures has not been able to resolve this question either way. No interior would have been hung this densely at this date, except that of an art dealer. This is probably not intended as an illustration of a particular dealer’s stock but more as a ‘variety pack’ produced by (or with the approval of) a group of artists in order to promote themselves. Painting had become a significant export at this time and it was also an important expression of the prestige of the city of Antwerp to show that it could still produce the variety of superlative craftsmanship in painting for which it had been famous over a period of 150 years. About half the works have initials, which can be matched (sometimes conjecturally) against known painters. Arranging the paintings in columns (reading from top to bottom) and reading the columns from left to right we can list the subjects and in most cases, the artists: Gypsies in a Crypt by Antoine Goubeau (1616-98); Fruit in a Landscape by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-84); Cymon and Iphigenia; Judgement of Solomon (the composition based on a lost painting executed for Amsterdam Town Hall) by Erasmus Quellinus (1607-78); Moonlit Seascape; Garland of Fruit and Flowers by Joris van Son (1623-67); Church Interior, dated 1654, by Peeter Neeffs I (1605-56) or II (1620-75); Mountainous Landscape by Jan Peeters (1624-77); David with the Head of Goliath, possibly by Theodore Boeyermans (1620-78); Still Life of Arms and Armour; Rape of Europa; Christ on the Cross; portraits of Rubens and Van Dyck; Moonlit Landscape; Still Life with a Skull, possibly by Harman Steenwyck (1612-56); Wooded Landscape by Pieter de Witte II (1617-67); Insects, Flowers etc. by Jan van Kessel (1626-79); Still Life with a Dead Swan by Pieter Boel (1622-74); Cavalry Skirmish by Nicolaes van Eyck (1617-79); Jupiter and Antiope; Landscape with a Tree by Gaspard de Witte (1624-81) and The Finding of the Infant Erichthonius. It is possible to see a pattern in this grouping: the majority of identified artists were from Antwerp and in their thirties or early forties at the time, which suggests that such works involved like-minded colleagues clubbing together. Presumably the elusive author of the work, Jacob de Formentrou, belonged to this generation. The arrangement includes two slightly older artists of distinction (Erasmus Quellinus and Jan Davidsz. de Heem) and images of two dead artists (Van Dyck and Rubens) of such supreme distinction that no celebration of Flemish art could leave them out. Signed on the crossbar of the table and dated 165(9?) on the cartouche over the fireplace. Catalogue entry adapted from Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting, London, 2007
    Provenance

    Probably acquired by George III

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    75.3 x 112.1 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    93.4 x 131.0 x 6.8 cm (frame, external)

    Markings

    1872 / No 89 (mark, stamped)

  • Alternative title(s)

    A Nobleman and his family in their Picture Gallery

    Picture Gallery

    A Picture Gallery in Antwerp