Trompe l'oeil. Paintings, Painter's Tools and a Flower-Patterned Table-Cover in the Artist's Studio in brief
- The painting was made while Gijsbrechts worked as court painter in Copenhagen.
- The painting has the function of a self portrait even if Gijsbrechts isn’t physically present in the picture.
- The studio painting’s many objects tell about Gijsbrechts’ work as an artist and about his affiliation with the Danish court.
- With his superior technique, Gijsbrechts tricks us into believing that we’re looking at three-dimensional objects.
Self portrait in absentia
There’s a lot we don’t know about Gijsbrechts. We don’t know when he was born or when he died, neither do we know anything about his familial relations or his educational background. We don’t know which town he came from, but Antwerp is the most likely. In the painting, Trompe l'oeil. Paintings, Painter's Tools and a Flower-Patterned Table-Cover in the Artist's Studio Gijsbrechts describes himself as an artist, the way he wishes to be known to the world.
He is not physically present in the picture, but then again, in a way he is. Because actually, he is in there as a discreet but also insisting presence, who observes us from a small portrait, nailed onto the back wall of the studio.From a picture in the picture. We don’t know of any traditional self portraits from Gijsbrechts’ hand, but similar portraits can be seen in other paintings of his studio, so we know with relative certainty that the portrait is of Gifsbrechts. With this self portrait, Gijsbrechts points out that this studio painting is about himself and not any other artist.
The reference to himself is substantiated by the note on the shelf below the portrait, addressed to “den kongelige konterfejer Gijsbrechts i København” (the Royal Portrait Painter Gijsbrechts in Copenhagen):
“Monsieur/Mons Cornelius Gijsbrechts/Contervijer v. Ihr Königl/Mayt von Dannemarck/Copenhagen”.
In this way he also drives home the message that he’s a court painter. Furthermore, the dripping paint on the hanging palette indicates that the artist is close by and actively creating. So even if he isn’t physically present in the painting, there’s no doubt that the artist is alive and kicking.
Gijsbrechts about Gijsbrechts
Paintings, rolled up sketches, brushes, a painter’s stick, palette with running paint, tins, jars, a clay pipe and a large, precious table-cover are some of the objects that tell us who Gijsbrechts is, or was.
Among the paintings in the studio is a genre painting in the style of David Teniers’ the Younger (1610-90). A painting of the same motif is today privately owned in Denmark and most likely was already in Denmark in the 17th century. Given that Teniers also came from Antwerp, the painting might have been chosen to point to Gijsbrechts’ Flemish origin as well as indirectly pointing to his home town.
In the style of David Teniers the Younger (copy?), genre scene, oil on canvas, 52,5 x 39 cm, private collection
On the shelf next to the small self portrait is a flower- and fruit piece, which is very like Gijsbrechts’ own paintings and which, like the portrait, the note with his name on it and the palette with the wet paint, can be seen as direct references to his work as an artist. The large table-cover, decorated with fruits and flowers, was owned by the Danish king and thus refers to him, to Gijsbrechts’ position and to his preferred genre, trompe l’oeil, where curtains often play a pivotal part.
The inclusion of the small genre painting of a river landscape by the artist David Teniers the Younger and of the sketches with studies of figures tell of his artistic debt and his classical training as an artist. In this way, Gijsbrechts elegantly tells us the story about his work and his strengths, his preferences for still lifes and trompe l’oeil paintings, his inspiration and artistic training, his position as court painter and he even sends a kind thought to his home town.
Not low in self esteem
The painting is made as a counterpart to Gijsbrechts’ Trompe l’oeil with trumpet, celestial globe and proclamation by Frederik III, which is regarded as a portrait in absentia of Fredrik III. The two paintings are of the same size, they are identically constructed, painted as illusions of rectangular wooden niches and, judging from the inflow of light in the two paintings, which, to underpin the illusionist effect, should correspond with the real inflow of light, were meant to hang side by side, so that one would be lit from the left, the other from the right.
C.N. Gijsbrechts, Trompe l’oeil with trumpet, celestial globe and proclamation by Frederik III, 1670, oil on canvas, 132 x 201 cm, KMSst461, SMK.
With this coupling, Gijsbrechts tells about his professional affiliation to the king. But furthermore, the juxtaposition of the two portraits in absentia could also imply something about the artist’s self esteem. And Gijsbrechts certainly didn’t hide his light under a bushel.
Joy and boast
Both Trompe l'oeil. Paintings, Painter's Tools and a Flower-Patterned Table-Cover in the Artist's Studio
and Trompe l’oeil with trumpet, celestial globe and proclamation by Frederik III are done as trompe l’oeils, which means they are done as illusions, where the spectator momentarily is led to believe that the two-dimensional object he’s looking at is in reality three-dimensional. This kind of illusion was commonplace in the 17th century and today, Gijsbrechts is viewed as one of the century’s most accomplished painters in this genre.
An important aspect of the trompe l’oeil painting’s effect is the joy, experienced by the spectator after first having been fooled into believing that the work was real and then discovering that is wasn’t. After discovering the bluff comes the admiration of the supreme technique behind it. Because, if the artist’s technique isn’t supreme, the illusion won’t work. Therefore, ultimately, a trompe l’oeil painting will always be about its creator, who in the painting process shows his supreme technique.
In this case, Gijsbrechts himself has extended the trompe l’oeil painting’s traditional somewhat boasting self referencing, so that the painting even tells his personal life story, education and sources of inspiration and of his present status as court painter. And to create further suspense, he also plays on the dualism between being absent and present.