Lit by a shaft of sunlight against dark shadows behind, the group of figures playing cards form a colourful distraction in a rather grey environment. We are witnessing a moment of triumph: the man in the red coat has just produced an ace while his opponent, in the blue jerkin, has the expression of a defeated man. These players categorise the painting as one of a group of bambocciate (scenes of everyday life) set in Rome. Like this one, many show small groups of tradesmen and use dramatic lighting contrasts and simplified architectural forms and landscapes.
Here, the monochromatic buildings behind the players are almost devoid of detail, but they form an intriguing arrangement of shapes and angles. It is the shapes and spaces, rather than the moment of triumph in the foreground, which create the mood of this slightly mysterious, perhaps even melancholy, painting.
Lit by a shaft of sunlight against dark shadows behind, the group of figures playing cards form a colourful distraction in a rather grey environment. When we look closely at them, we realise this isn’t just an anonymous passage in the game but a moment of triumph, perhaps even the winning flourish. The man in the red coat has just produced an ace, while his opponent, in the blue jerkin, has the expression of a defeated man.
These players categorise the painting as one of a group of bambocciate (scenes of everyday life) set in Rome, many of which show tradesmen at work, or, as in this case, at play. The bambocciate are also characterised by dramatic contrasts in light and by a particular simplicity in the architectural and landscape forms in the background. It is these almost abstract shapes and forms which make this painting so distinctive and intriguing.
The monochromatic buildings behind the card players are almost devoid of detail, but they form an intriguing arrangement of shapes and angles. The diagonals and shadows of the roofs lead our eyes directly down to the contrasting circles and curves of the elaborate stone fountain. But there are strong vertical lines, too, which create a rhythm across the whole composition, from the shadowy wall on the left to the high spout which forms the spine of the fountain itself.
The artist has also been careful to guide us through those spaces. We pick out the dog in the foreground, then the head of the half-hidden sleeping man. The white smudge of the donkey’s nose at the centre of the picture takes us around and behind the fountain to his red-coated master, and finally to the shadowy form of a man looking out into the sunset and the landscape beyond the city. It is these shapes and spaces, rather than the moment of triumph in the foreground, with which the artist creates the mood of the painting. It’s slightly mysterious, perhaps even melancholy.
This picture, like the other bambocciate paintings, is unsigned. They have been traditionally attributed to Pieter van Laer, but are now regarded as early works by Jan Lingelbach, painted during his stay in Rome in the 1640s. This was a time when he closely imitated van Laer. A third alternative is that another, unknown artist – who has been named the Master of the Small Trades – may be responsible.
Lingelbach was born in Frankfurt but his family later moved to Amsterdam. He is said to have gone to France in 1642, and then to Rome, where he learned to paint in a more Italianate style. He returned to Amsterdam in the 1650s and worked there for the rest of his life, primarily as a figure painter. He contributed figures to landscapes by other artists, probably including those by two whose pictures are owned by the National Gallery: Koninck and Wijnants. An example is the former’s An Extensive Landscape with a Hawking Party, in which Lingelbach probably inserted the figures.
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