In the Mauritshuis in The Hague, there is one of those paintings of picture galleries. (‘Apelles Painting Campaspe’ c. 1630 by Willem van Hecht.) In the painting the works of art are stacked on shelves and hung one on top of the other on the walls. The ‘visitors’ mimic classical poses and inhabit the space as if they are models. On the left hand side there is an artist engaged in the process of painting a real model. (This is the Apelles painting Campaste of the title.) So academy and art gallery overlap. In the lower left hand corner van Hecht has shown a framed picture leaning up against a plinth. It shows a banker and his wife counting coins. The banker’s wife is leafing through a book but has been distracted by her husband. The book is open at an illustration which might be Adam and Eve. At the front of the banker’s table there is a small convex mirror – an unlikely artefact for the banker to have at his table, except that, reflected in the mirror is the head of a man in a red turban. Is this the artist of the portrait of the banker and his wife? Or is it a self-portrait of the artist of the picture gallery painting? I am reminded of Georges Perec’s story ‘Un cabinet d’un amateur’ (published in English as ‘A Gallery Portrait) with its dizzying receding perspectives in space and time.

3 thoughts on “Layers

  1. Fascinating also to compare van Haecht’s painting of 1630 to the painting of 1566 by Hans Vredeman de Vries, ‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary’, currently on display in the ‘Charles 1’ exhibition at the RA. Painted 64 years earlier, there are very strong similarities in the compositions, suggesting that van Haecht may have seen this painting and adapted its structure to accommodate entirely different subject matter (arguably with a higher degree of skill than his predecessor), unless this was an established ‘default’ pictorial template in the painting traditions of the 16th and 17th century Dutch schools.
    You can see it here with an interesting commentary:
    (The exhibition runs only till 15 April and is absolutely amazing.)

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