TENIERS, David the Younger
(b. 1610, Antwerpen, d. 1690, Bruxelles)

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria in his Gallery

Oil on canvas, 96 x 129 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In 1646 Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria was appointed Governor of the Low Countries and took up residence at the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels. He already owned an attractive collection of paintings, which he constantly expanded by buying Flemish paintings and, principally, works by the top Italian masters. In 1651 Teniers was appointed court painter and curator of the Archduke's gallery. In this capacity it is very likely that he was charged with acquiring in England the Italian paintings of the illustrious Hamilton collection and those of King Charles I, as it is certain that he undertook a trip across the channel in the same year. The Archduke, very proud of his sumptuous Italian collection, charged Teniers with reproducing the 244 most prestigious works in reduced format. These copies were to serve as models for the engravings illustrating the Theatrum pictorium Davidis Teniers..., a monumental collection published at Antwerp in 1660. Also asked to paint a grand view of the collection, the artist undertook this first task with great talent and considerable mastery.

This painting, dating from 1651, is the very first of a numerous series of views of the Archduke's collection that Teniers was to paint. This harmonious, symmetrical, linear and very precise composition shows us part of the Governor's very recent Italian collection. Dressed in the fashion of the Spanish Grandees, he is standing under the central arcade and studying a drawing presented to him by the painter. Other sketches and "objets d'art" are spread out on a stone table supported by a bronze base representing Ganymedes and the eagle, a work that Emperor Rudolf II commissioned from the famous sculptor Adriaen de Vries in Prague. The elegantly-dressed figure to the left, holding a statuette, is probably a courtier.

Space is too short here to give a complete listing of the works decorating the Archduke's gallery. It is not difficult to identify these masterpieces, which the Archduke took with him to Vienna when he left Brussels in 1656, as Teniers was careful to indicate the artist on each picture frame. Most of these paintings are still in Vienna, where, with Leopold Wilhelm's other collections, they form the main core of the Pinakothek of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 19 minutes):
Modest Mussorgsky: Picture from an Exhibition, arr. by Maurice Ravel (excerpts)