Monday, April 30, 2007

Paintings of Paintings: Teniers and the Archduke's cabinet

I first discovered Teniers because I had a fondness for his paintings of alchemists. Teniers (the Younger, not the older or Teniers III) paintings are of daily life, peasants in the field and in the kitchen, 17th century snapshots.

His paintings of alchemical laboratories depict the alchemist at work. Rooms cluttered with books, creatures - stuffed on hooks, perched on tables, jars with murky and mysterious contents. The painting The Alchemist from 1645 is typical. He returned to this theme several times: The Alchemist, Teniers as an Alchemist, The Alchemist, An Alchemist in his Workshop and many more.

One of Teniers' patrons was the Archduke Leopold William, an aristocrat and art collector. His collection of over a thousand paintings included Titian, Breugel, Van Eyck, Raphael, Veronese and Giorgione. In the series of paintings Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery, Teniers set out to document this collection - or at least its greatest stars.

The painting above shows not only these paintings but also Teniers (on the far left) and the Archduke, prominent with his hat and cape. Another version of this painting appears here along with clickable identifications of many of the paintings.

The painting can be considered a catalog of sorts. The intention of the work is to showcase the Archduke's treasures. The collection is oriented on one wall and toward the viewer. The Archduke stands regally in the middle with Teniers, his humble curator and assistant off to the side.

This piece is in fact a direct precursor to the first Art catalog - Teniers' Theatrum Pictorium. Teniers employed engravers to reproduce the greatest works of the ArchDuke in miniature. These engravings were used to print the Theatrum Pictorium, a book of reproductions, the antecedent of photographic plates. The engravers worked off of small oil reproductions produced by Teniers himself. That is, the images in the catalog are copies of copies, an engravers take on a Teniers oil copy of a painting by Giorgione for example. In a few cases, the original paintings have either been lost or altered, making the Theatrum Pictorium illustration more real than the painting itself.

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