About our painting
Our canvas is glued onto pressed cardboard. The canvas has been painted as if it were a wall covered with wooden planks.
At the centre one sees a painting, oil on canvas, attached with a few nails onto the wall, by a follower of David Teniers II (Antwerp 1610 – 1690 Brussels). Teniers is the most copied Flemish 17th century painter, not only during his life, but also after his death, and this well into the 18th and even the 19th century, not only in Flanders, but also in (Northern) France.
One sees peasants outside a tavern, playing a ball game, that looks like a forerunner of Pétanque (which was only invented in 1910).
Two French playing cards, representing two of the Nine Worthies (historical figures personifying the ideals of chivalry) stick behind the canvas:
- the upper one represents Etienne de Vignolles, called La Hire (1390 – 1443). He was a French military commander during the Hundred Year’s War; he was a close comrade of Joan of Arc in their fight against the English.
- the left one represents the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC).
Under the painting is a pair of glasses. Eyeglasses (“discs for the eyes”) seem to have been invented in Italy, probably in Pisa, during the late 13th century. Florence, which already had a large glass industry, became an important production centre. Following the invention by Guttenberg of the printing press during the middle 15th century and the availability of books, newspapers and engravings to the ‘common’ man, its use became widespread. These early spectacles did not have sides yet; they were used as a pince-nez. Therefore they were not easy to keep in place. While reading one had to hold his head back or simply hold them in place with one hand. The best lenses were produced in Italy (Florence), the best frames in Germany (Nuremberg en Regensburg).
In the lower right corner a small, faded letter is pinned down onto the wall. It is signed by “L de Gruttere” and dates from 1701. It is written in Flemish and it says, if I can read it correctly, that J. Sehonne has received a cash payment in French money for the equivalent of thirty Dutch guilders of Lord Libbervoorst in the city of Bergues (Winoxbergen) in Northern France.
About the art of painting a “trompe l’oeil”
A “trompe l’oeil” is a convincing optical illusion, a game, a manipulative joke, a cheating device. Painting also: how can a painter represent in two dimensions the effect of depth, of a third dimension? How far would these painters go in playfully excelling in their art? How refined could culture get? Painters turned art into a game and a game into art.
These paintings were called “bedriegertjes” in Dutch, that is “a small imposter, a small crook”. Their aim was not only to deceive by perfectly imitating the objects, but also to be identified as painted fiction.
Plato wrote that “everything that deceives may be said to enchant”. In the world of arts this idea is almost self-evident: the artist transforms paint into his or her perception of the world. The very fact that this version of reality is subjective forms the essence of its attraction to the viewer.
In his “Naturalis Historia” (Natural History), the Roman author Pliny the Elder (23 AD – 79 AD) tells the story of a competition between the 5th century BC Greek painters Zeuxis of Heraclea and Parrhasius of Ephesus (who settled in Athens).
Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so real that birds flew down to peck at the painting. Confident of his success, Zeuxis asked Parrhasius to draw back the curtain covering his work, only to realise that the curtain itself was the painting, a painted illusion, and that Parrhasius had won the competition.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is such a charming trompe l’oeil painting.