de jonckheere old masters

Adriaen van Stalbemt

A collector’s cabinet

Panel: 108 x 137,2 cm


Art cabinets belong to the Flemish tradition of “Kunstkamers” (Cabinets of Curiosities) paintings. This genre appeared in Antwerp at the beginning of the 17th century and included paintings of interiors covered in works of art. In fact, it is relatively common to see these paintings portraying collections that actually existed. It was for this reason that David Teniers the Younger was put in charge of compiling a richly illustrated in-folio catalogue illustrated with all the paintings belonging to Archduke Leopold William. This collection figured among the most prestigious in Europe and served as a basis for the rich collection of paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In 1658, the famous Theatrum Pictorum saw the light of day; Teniers was responsible for copying all the Italian paintings from the Archduke’s collection into a small format. These copies served as modelli for the team of artists employed to create engravings of the collection under his supervision.

The artists also liked to depict fictitious cabinets, the fruit of their imagination, which could be based on portrayals of paintings, sculptures and exotic objects belonging to the various collections in Antwerp. These art cabinets were metaphors for know-how, taste and knowledge. This humanist concept was reinforced by the connection between Renaissance painting and the celebration of ancient history from a moralistic point of view. Just like the Italian studiolo in the 16th century, the art cabinet had a very particular intellectual dimension.

The Collector’s Cabinet we are presenting here is a perfect example of this humanist context. It shows a vast room lit by windows with small lead-rimmed panes, decorated with paintings covering the walls from floor to ceiling. A solid-wood sideboard occupies the right-hand side and albums of engravings, maritime maps, medals, shells, a compass, a ruler as well as a globe lie higgledy-piggledy on a large table. In the background on the left, an astronomical device stands in the middle of a second table covered with an oriental rug. The painting is animated with numerous characters. The very elegantly dressed visitors, wearing swords, admire the works of art and discover the workings of the various scientific instruments surrounding them. In the centre, two art-lovers are deep in conversation about a panel leaning against a chair. Is this an art gallery or is it a visit to one of the numerous private collections in Antwerp? The art dealer’s shop provided artists with a subject that was highly fashionable in the 17th century (we are referring, in particular, to La boutique de Jean Snellinck exhibited in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, given to Hieronymus Francken II) and, as mentioned above, the portrayal of paintings often formed a veritable illustrated catalogue of famous collections. The panel we are presenting here does not really fit either category since we have, as yet, been unable to identify the main characters.

The execution of this interior is extremely precise, particularly as regards the faces, the satin used for the doublets and the embroidery on the coats. The rendering of the paintings that decorate the walls is just as meticulous and offers a multi-coloured background against which the luminous and sparkling tones of the clothing stand out. The fresh colours, the touches of scarlet, the warm brown of the oak-beamed ceiling, the confidently-executed antique sculptures, all evoke the work of a confirmed master who belongs to the highest rank of cabinet painters. Very close to the collector’s cabinet painted by Stalbemt currently exhibited in the Prado in Madrid, this painting was undoubtedly painted by the same hand.

Several canvases exhibited on the walls of our cabinet can be attributed to their authors. There is a Church Interior reminiscent of Peter Neefs; two head-and-shoulder Portraits characteristic of the Flemish 16th century on either side of a still life by Snijders, recognisable by the large red tablecloth on which bunches of grapes are arranged; a Rocky Landscape based on the works of Joos de Momper and a Seascape in the style of Adam Willaerts or André van Eertvelt. Two landscapes also attract the viewer’s attention.

Situated on the left-hand wall, the first one can easily be mistaken for a landscape with travellers so dear to Jan Brueghel the Elder. The second one, on the right, is typical of the paintings of undergrowth particular to Stalbemt himself. Nevertheless, it is difficult to establish in the collection of paintings in this cabinet, which are faithful copies of works (replicas) and which are fictitious and fanciful versions inspired by the originals. For instance, in the Collector’s Cabinet in the Kleefeld collection in Brussels painted by Frans Francken II, we can, at first glance, recognise the same motifs as in the Still life and Portraits in our painting, though closer examination reveals tiny modifications which lead us to evoke – as we have done – works painted “in the style of”.

Adriaen van Stalbemt succeeds in portraying all the world’s know-how in this painting. His extremely delicate style wonderfully captures all the sumptuousness and refinement that surrounded Antwerp’s intelligentsia in the middle of the 17th century. There are four other very similar versions of this emblematic work: one belongs to a private Italian collection, another is kept at the Prado in Madrid, a third one, which involves a collaboration with Jan ‘Velvet’ Brueghel for the figures of Albert and Isabella, is in Baltimore, and the last one belongs to the royal collections of England.

Provenance :
Laurent Meeus (1872- 1950), Brussels;
Private collection, Great Britain.

Littérature :
M. Diaz Pedrón, Museo del Prado Catàlogo de Pinturas I. Escuela Flamenca Siglo XVII, Madrid 1975, vol. I, pp. 380-81, under no. 1405 (as Adriaen van Stalbempt);
A. Scarpa Sonino, Cabinet d’amateur, Milan 1992, p.37;
M. Diaz Pedrón and M. Royo–Villanova, David Teniers, Jan Brueghel y los gabinetes de pinturas, Madrid 1992, p. 199;
S. Speth-Holterhoff, Les peintres flamands de cabinets d’amateurs aux XVII siècle, 1957, p. 69;
Madrid, Prado Museum, catalogue of the exhibition, David Teniers, Jan Brueghel et les cabinets de Peintures, 1992, pp.195 to 200.

Expositions :
Brussels, Galerie Robert Finck, 1955 (as Frans Francken the Younger).