BASSEN, Bartholomeus van
(b. ca. 1590, Den Haag, d. 1652, Den Haag)

Renaissance Interior with Banqueters

1618-20
Oil on wood, 57,5 x 87 cm
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

Van Bassen developed a specialty in lavishly decorated palace interiors with elegant figures. Characteristically, the room here is box-shaped with a tile-floor and coffered ceiling lit by rows of windows along the left wall. The general atmosphere is one of sumptuousness and luxury. Ornamental embellishments and decorative objects abound; hardly any space is left uncovered. There are elaborately carved pieces of furniture and doors, a floral frieze along the top of the walls, two colossal marble columns with composite capitals, and a sideboard with an ostentatious display of precious-metal plates and goblets on a dais beneath a canopy. With the exception of a large triptych with The Adoration of the Shepherds, the paintings - several landscapes and a flower painting reminiscent of those by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder or Balthasar van der Ast - are o f a type one would expect in a well-to-do Dutch household. Similar decorative features can ben found in all of Van Bassen's palace interiors.

The effect of wealth and luxury is enhanced by the elegantly dressed men and women who seem to enjoy each other's company. These staffage figures have been attributed to Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630). 28 pictures by Van Bassen with staffage by Van de Velde have been identified, all datable to the first half of the 1620s.

Unlike several other palace interiors by Van Bassen, this painting seems to be an uncomplicated Merry Company scene. Whether moralizing overtones should be read into it is a matter of debate. While the figures at the table in the left background are engaged in polite conversation, the general atmosphere is one of indulgence and idle pleasure; a wine cooler, richly festooned with wines, is on the right; the dandy in the foreground, clearly inebriated, enjoys the attention of two women; and a cushion and playing cards have been tossed to the floor. The company also includes a dog, a monkey, and a parrot. It has been proposed that these animals, which frequently occur in Van Bassen's palace interiors, carry symbolic significance: among other qualities, loyalty is characteristic of the dog; vanity and lust are associated with the monkey, and an ability to imitate is a talent of the parrot.