Backgammon (triktrak in Dutch) was a highly popular board game in seventeenth-century Flanders, especially in taverns and drinking dens, where players would bet on the outcome. The white cube we see in the centre of the board is probably a doubling die, used to up the stakes. Gambling of this kind was often frowned upon – especially when associated, as here, with other vices such as drinking and smoking – and appears frequently in paintings of the time, often indicating moral degeneracy.
But while not entirely respectable, the game was considered by many to be a legitimate source of amusement. Here, Teniers has captured the tension at a critical moment of the game. Few counters are left on the board and the man on the right appears eager for his opponent, with the white counter, to cast the dice. All his black counters are stacked ready to be cleared – with the right throw he will be able to claim victory.
The scene in front of the hearth in the background on the right reappears in Teniers’ Christ Crowned with Thorns, also in the National Gallery’s collection.
The scene in front of the hearth in the background on the right reappears in Teniers’ Christ Crowned with Thorns.
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