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Flemish, Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures

Key facts
Full title Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures
Artist Flemish
Date made about 1620
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 95.9 × 123.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by John Staniforth Beckett, 1889
Inventory number NG1287
Location Room 17
Collection Main Collection
Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures

Eleven finely dressed men inspect and discuss the contents of a large room packed with works of art, astronomical instruments and antiques. Their distinctive features suggest that these might be portraits of known artists, connoisseurs, collectors and art dealers – the ‘cognoscenti’ of the painting’s title – though none have been securely identified. The paintings, sculptures and prints are apparently meticulous miniature copies of real examples by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century artists, mostly local to Antwerp, but the collection of them together in an exaggeratedly large room is the fancy of the artist.

It’s most likely that the function of this picture was to showcase a range of the best in the city as a kind of aspirational ‘wish list’ for art lovers. But the presence of a monkey – a traditional symbol of the foolishness of man’s endeavours – on the windowsill is perhaps a reminder of the ultimate futility of the hoarding of beautiful, expensive objects.

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