Picture of the month: Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures

In this 17th-century genre scene, a group of fashionably dressed noblemen are surrounded by luxurious goods and curiosities

Flemish, Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures, about 1620

Flemish, 'Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures', about 1620

The walls are crammed with paintings and the surfaces with artefacts. Light streams through enormous windows, helping the men – possibly scholars or collectors – to examine the works.

At the green table (in the foreground on the left) men inspect maps, drawings and prints, amidst spectacles, dividers, rulers, an astrolabe (used by astronomers), a celestial globe, a sundial, a magnifying glass, and antique cameos and coins.

The table behind them displays sculptures, shells and a cameo bust, and the large wooden cabinet on the right contains gold vessels, porcelain, beads, and pieces of rare coral.

However, it is the paintings that dominate the room. They are almost all by Antwerp artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, and include works in the style of Joachim Beuckelaer, Joos de Momper, Jan Brueghel the Elder, and Frans Francken – the artist who established this genre of painting.

It is likely that a collector commissioned the painting – and although the room may be imaginary, the artefacts are probably real. They demonstrate that the collector was a person of intellectual interests, and engaged in studying the world. Paintings, such as those shown here, were prized in this context less for their attributions and more for how their subject matter could contribute to a wider understanding of the world.

A monkey observes the scene through one of the windows, perhaps a reminder to the viewer that, regardless of studying the world, mankind should know its place in relation to God.

about 1620
Flemish: 'Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures'

Related paintings

Jan the Elder Brueghel, ‘The Garden of Eden’, 1613
The Garden of Eden
Jan Brueghel the Elder
Joachim Beuckelaer: 'The Four Elements: Air'
The Four Elements: Air
Joachim Beuckelaer