David Teniers the Younger was an important Flemish artist who specialised in genre scenes. He is best known for his Flemish peasant scenes, but he also regularly painted gypsies. Most of these paintings represent fortune tellers. This occupation was considered as a sin in Christian, Catholic Europe. It stood for self-deception, for manipulation of God’s laws. Only a few of Teniers’ gypsy scenes, such as ours, show compassion for these poor people living at the edge of our societies.
About David Teniers II
Antwerp 1610 – 1690 Brussels
Important versatile painter of genre scenes, landscapes, still lifes, portraits and historic scenes.
Son and pupil of David I Teniers (1587-1649) who was a history and genre painter. David I was probably a pupil of his older brother Juliaen I (1572 – 1615).
Brother and probably master of Abraham Teniers (1629 – 1670) who was a genre scene painter.
Father of David III Teniers (1638 – 1685) who was an important tapestry cartoon painter.
David II’s wife was Anna Brueghel (1619 – 1656), the daughter of Jan Brueghel I (1568-1625) and sister of Ambrosius and of Jan Brueghel II.
Teniers was active in his native Antwerp until 1650, where he developed
a good relationship with Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).
From 1650 until his death in 1690 he lived in Brussels. He became the court painter of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614-1662), the governor of the Spanish Netherlands (Flanders) and his work was quickly imitated and copied.
The next governor, Don Juan of Austria, was also a patron of Teniers, as was Prince William of Orange, Queen Christina of Sweden, and most notably King Philip IV of Spain.
About the gypsies
The Roma or Romani or Gypsies are a nomadic people who left NW India roughly 1500 years ago and arrived in Western Europe from the East in the 15th century. Although they were at first welcome in most countries and towns, this attitude changed rapidly and dramatically. Just as the Jews they were being stigmatized and criminalized. This was the start of a long history of accusations of bringing the plague, of spying for the Turks, of stealing and cheating. This resulted in discrimination, forced labour, persecution, abduction of their children, ethnic cleansing, deportation, expulsion and killing.
During the 17th and 18th century the Romani were called 'Egyptians' or 'pagans' in the Low Countries. The designation 'Egyptian' (hence 'gypsy') refers to the story that they had fled from Egypt after the Muslim conquest of the country during the 7th century AD.
Roma were active as musicians, fortune tellers, dealers in herbs and medication, seasonal workers in the farms, etc. Some survived as beggars. They literally lived at the edge of society, in tents and huts, in regions where the vegetation and the conditions of the ground made it difficult for a central control.
Why were the Gypsies persecuted:
- because they had a dark skin, this in Christian society where a light skin referred to the angels, a dark one to the devils;
- because they were nomads and therefore outcasts;
- because of prejudices against their customs;
- because no one understood their language;
- because they had invented a story that they were the descendants of the Egyptians who had enslaved the Israelites and who therefore had been condemned by God to perpetual wandering;
- because through fortune telling and palmistry they competed with the priests to win the superstitious minds;
- because they worked outside the rigid system of the trade guilds.
About our painting
Although Teniers never visited Italy he has set our scene among Roman ruins, which is very rare for him.
As you shall see among our comparative works Teniers painted an important number of paintings with gypsies.
There is only one other landscape with gypsies with a background of Roman ruins by our painter, the painting sold at Delvaux, Paris.
Other exotic backdrops are grottos and mountainous or hilly landscapes.
Teniers also regularly painted Flemish landscapes with gypsies.
Another 17th century Flemish painter who regularly painted genre scenes with gypsies was Jan van de Venne (probably Mechelen, circa 1592 – before 1651, probably Brussels). Van de Venne specialised in caricatured, so-called ‘low-life’ subjects, such as card-players, tooth-pullers and musicians, and in expressive religious scenes. Because he regularly painted gypsies he is also known as ‘le Maître des Tziganes’ in France.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it combines an important name with an exotic subject.
Because few people realise that there is more to the artistic production of David Teniers the Younger than those typical Flemish peasant scenes; indeed he regularly painted gypsies.