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Gonzales Coques, Touch

Key facts
Full title Touch
Artist Gonzales Coques
Artist dates 1614/18 - 1684
Series The Five Senses
Date made before 1661
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 25.1 × 19.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1882
Inventory number NG1116
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Gonzales Coques

This is one of five paintings intended to hang together, each of which denotes one of the five senses – a common theme for painting in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century. In each of these paintings Gonzales Coques has used a traditional activity to represent the relevant sense.

Here, Touch is depicted as a man with his sleeve rolled back letting blood from his arm, a procedure which was believed to help cure or prevent some medical conditions. Blood was probably associated with the sense of touch because, like feeling, it permeates the whole body. By contrast, the receptors for the other four senses are located only on the head.

This may also be a real portrait. We don’t know who it is, but as three of the other paintings in the series are artists, he may be one too. It was probably designed as the central image of the five, since the sitter faces forwards; among the others two turn to the left, two to the right.

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The Five Senses


This is a series of five small pictures which represent the senses: taste, touch, hearing, smell and sight. Many paintings on this theme were made in the Low Countries in the seventeenth century, and Gonzales Coques painted the series more than once.

A man engaged in a relevant activity represents each sense – Hearing, for example, is a musician. The figures appear to be portraits and, while we can't now identify them all, it may be that each picture shows an artist. All those that have been identified depict contemporary painters or sculptors – the figure of Sight is a portrait of Robert van den Hoeke (1622–1668), a painter who worked in Antwerp.

The pictures appear to have been designed to hang in a particular way. Two men face to the right, two to the left; one – Touch – sits facing the viewer, and was presumably intended to be hung as the central image flanked by the others.