This masterpiece from 1632 was commissioned by the Ghent Bishop Triest. On the surface, this large canvas shows a merry and relaxed "sensuous" scene, but its title indicates that there is more to this work than meets the eye. The painter, Theodoor Rombouts, is presenting us with an allegory, a genre that was very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The real subject is the five senses, who are personified by human (read: male) figures, with attributes to help the viewer identify them.
From right to left, they are:- smell: the man with the pipe and the heads of garlic,- taste: the man with the wine and food at his feet,- touch: the blind man with fragments of sculptures in front of him,- hearing: the man with the musical instruments,- and sight: the man wearing the spectacles. In his right hand, he is holding a mirror in which we can see the reflection of parts of the instruments, as in a still life.
Rombouts, a Flemish Caravaggist, grasps this opportunity to depict aspects of human activities: music, art, gastronomy... Often, this kind of painting was mainly an occasion for a painter to display his technical skill. And indeed, there is much variation in this canvas: it has a wide colour palette, the movements are supple and the space is utilised to the full. The musician's garments shine shimmer in a play of light and shadow. That makes the lifelessness of his blue hose all the more striking. Rombouts used to experiment with cheaper pigments. Over time, the blue pigments he used here have oxidised, so that all the depth and modelling has vanished from these passages.
SizeH: 207 cm
MediumOil on canvas