Who painted the Linder Gallery Interior? Considerations by Ron Cordover

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Given the multiple styles presented in the paintings on the walls within the Linder Gallery, it seems possible that more than one hand was involved in its creation. The series of four paintings called the “Senses” in the Prado Museum in Madrid, for example, are well known collaborations between Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens.

While some comments herein are speculative in nature, as we don’t have certain evidence of authorship, the following is support for the idea that the principal painter was Jan Brueghel the Elder and that the painting was completed in the early 1620’s.

Indications pointing to Brueghel:

1) Stylistic: The genre of painting, that of formal “gallery interiors” or “cabinets of collections”, was developed in the second decade of the 17th century in Antwerp and was popularized by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens and Franz Francken the Younger. Several scholars and dealers familiar with these and other painters of the period have indicated that the detail within the painting and extraordinary quality of execution point to Jan Brueghel the Elder.

2) Provenance: The Rothschild’s family records indicate that Jan Brueghel the Elder was the painter. When the painting was sold by the Rothschild’s to the family of Mellon-Evans in 1957-58, it was represented as by Brueghel. While certainly not dispositive, there is a reasonable likelihood that these owners from the mid-19th to the mid 20th century had certain provenance and authorship information which led them to this conclusion.

3) Preparatory drawing: The preparatory drawing (in the Windsor collection) appears to contain three identifiable portraits within it. The principal party in the group—looking out at the viewer, a technique often expressing authorship—is essentially identical to self portraits of Peter Paul Rubens. The second likeness, with “wild” hair, is highly suggestive of Jan van Dyck who was a student of Rubens during the couple of years just prior to 1620. Finally, the third party, with elegant dress and formal posture, resembles portraits of Peter Linder, the German merchant living in Milan at that time, whose family crest is clearly identifiable at the top of the window on the left of the finished painting. At the time that Van Dyck was working in Ruben’s studio Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens were completing their extraordinary joint creative effort, sometimes referred to as the “Senses” paintings, now residing in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The close personal relationship between Rubens and Brueghel is well documented.

4) Patron/Milan connection: The family crest in the upper left window of the painting has been identified as that of the German merchant Peter Linder who was resident in Milan in the 1620’s. A letter to Mutio Oddi, a mathematician and scientist from Urbino, dated 1629, makes specific reference to its writer having just been in the Linder home and seeing the painting “conceived” by Mutio Oddi. Peter Linder was a student of Mutio Oddi whose likeness appears on one of the medallions on the center table of the Linder Gallery painting. Peter Linder was a friend of Cardinal Federico Borromeo of Milan, who, during the period from just before 1600 to around 1630, with the assistance of his agent Ercole Bianchi, was collecting and displaying important works by Jan Brueghel the Elder. Jan Brueghel the Elder lived in Borromeo’s house in the mid 1590’s before returning to Antwerp.

Issues to overcome as to Brueghel’s authorship:

1) Jan Brueghel the Elder died in early 1625. One of the books on the center table in the painting, Tabula Rudolfine by Johannes Kepler, was published in 1627, after Brueghel’s death. However, this critical mathematical summary of the observations of Tycho Brahe of the orbit of the planet Mars through the sky was created and finished more than a decade earlier and prominent scientists such as Mutio Oddi could very well have known about it. In the critical reference to the cosmological system of Brahe, included in the planetary drawing on the center table, the inclusion of Kepler’s book would have been very relevant. The book’s official publication date notwithstanding, the painting could very well have been completed in the early 1620’s by Brueghel the Elder informed by Oddi’s knowledge of Kepler’s work

2) A Medallion of Mutio Oddi was apparently cast after Brueghel’s death (see the references by Alexander Marr). However, given Oddi’s apparently central role in conceiving the cosmological and other mathematic representations in the painting, it would have been natural to include his portrait along with those of Michelangelo, Durer, Cardenas, Alciati, and Bramante. A drawing of the Oddi Medallion (no actual copies of which are apparently extant) may be slightly different than the difficult to resolve likeness of Oddi on the coin in the painting.

There may be archival material not yet discovered in Peter Linder’s family papers or in those of Borromeo or Bianchi or Brueghel or Rubens. Until such material is found, unless some other directional clues are discovered, absolutely certain attribution to Jan Brueghel the Elder is difficult to make. However, from the stylistic and relational connections described above his being the principal painter continues to be a reasonable likelihood.

If any reader has comments, related information, and/or educated judgments on these matters please feel free to offer your thoughts by clicking on “CONTACT” in the header of the website and forwarding your observations!

Ron Cordover

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