Fabriques in Paintings 1: Sebastian Vrancx. Part A. The Trelliswork Fabrique on the Terrace

This series of posts (A-C) discusses depictions of small buildings that I feel inclined to appropriate to the category of fabriques. They work outwards from the fabrique to the image as a whole, as required. Images by the author unless otherwise stated.

The Fabrique on the Terrace

A painting by Sebastian Vranx in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, depicts a banquet in a villa (Fig. 1).[1]

Fig. 1. Sebastian Vrancx (Antwerp, 1573 – Antwerp, 1647), An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620. Oil on oak. 91 × 126 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Inv. 58.27.

It has been dated 1610–1620. Vrancx was a pupil of Paul Bril in Rome in and this painting seems to draw on representations of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, outside Rome, by Bril (see below), and probably the Villa d’Este directly. The building with two towers at the top left is how the main building of the Villa d’Este appears from the main side of the garden (that is, the fountain of the Organ area), which is how it appears in a frescoed view within the villa itself, which is probably the ultimate source (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Fresco of Villa d’Este within the villa.

The details vary, but Vrancx and others around Bril, such as Willem van Nieulandt I and II, did not (mostly) paint accurate topographical views (the veduta as a popular genre had to await the eighteenth century), yet the topographical origins of their works, or sections of their works, are often evident.

To clinch the connection with the Villa d’Este there is, at upper left, a statue of Pegasus striking the rock to create the spring of Hippocrenes, the inspring well of the muses on Mount Helicon (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Vrancx, Elegant Company, detail, statue of Pegasus stroking the rock.

This was a common trope in Renaissance gardens, and one of the most influential instances was at the Villa d’Este, where it is located in a position corresponding to the one shown by Vrancx. Brill, Vrancx, and Jan Breughel all made topographical drawings at Tivoli. The disposition of the garden, in the loosest sense, with a distant view to a city are also reminiscent of the ‘classic’ view in the Villa d’Este, where the city is Rome.

The fabrique of interest here is clearly a garden structure (Fig. 4), on a terrace above the sunken garden where the main action takes place.

Fig. 4. Vrancx, Elegant Company. Trellis building on the terrace.

It is quite a solid little building, but it is not clear what Vrancx is trying to tell us about its materials. The barrel vaulted roof is ribbed, like corrugated iron, which suggests trelliswork. On the other hand it appears very solid, with thick corner piers and a frieze shaped like coarse stonework, as if Vrancx is trying to tell us it is made of brick and pantiles (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Vrancx, Elegant Company. Trellis building on the terrace, detail..

There is an aedicular doorway on the long side, and the ends appear to be solid. But inside the doorway one can see hints of a criss-cross pattern. In the centre of the roof is a drum zone on a rectangular plan with volutes at the corners, with round windows, a horizontal ellipse on the front and a circle or vertical ellipse on the side. There is a round window in the lunette of the end bay. Above this is a shallow vertical dome with external ribs and horizontal bands which is hard to read as other than trellis work. Yet the ribs on the fancy umbrella-like finial read better as tiles. There are round knobs on the top the arched ends of the bilding. Around the base are tall vases with tall plants. In the wall is a barrel vaulted gateway, which is necessarily masonry, but the extension at the back appears to be trelliswork, and there is a crowning ball, all of which points to the fabrique being trelliswork. The gate has a rectacgular extension to accommodate a niche, perhaps with a staue, with a shallow domed roof and gilded finial.

Typologically it reads like a chapel, but there are no crosses anywhere, Aesthetically it is interesting without being exciting. Usually with Vrancx there is a source somewhere, however transformed, and in this case I wonder whether it is the Villa d’Este, probably as represented by Paul Bril.

In Duperac’s well-known engraving of the project Villa d’Este (and its derivatives) in the sixteenth century (not everything shown was executed) we can see on the flat ground is a system of trellis–work tunnels with pedimented openings, octagonal crossing features, and gateways (Figs. 6, 7).

Fig. 6. After Dupérac, Villa d’Este, engraving, coloured.
Fig. 7. After Dupérac, Villa d’Este, engraving, coloured, detail of trellises. .

These are clearly the inspiration for the trellis work and domed building in Bril’s drawing of Work in the Vineyards: March, in the Louvre (Figs. 8, 9).[2] In another Bril drawing (Fig. 10),[3] where a version of the Villa d’Este main building can still be discerned, we see a more elaborate octagonal domed trellis work building.

Fig. 8. Paul Bril (1554-1626), Le Mois de Mars: le travail de la vigne, 1598. Paris, Louvre, Inv.19786. Recto
Fig. 9. Paul Bril (1554-1626), Le Mois de Mars: le travail de la vigne, detail.
Fig. 10. Paul Bril, Palace and Park with Terrace overlooking a River: May. Drawing, Paris, Louvre. Ruby, cat. 25.

(These are combined in Fig. 11.)

Fig. 11. Comparisons of trellised buildings in Vrancx, Dupérac and Bril.

It is interesting that Bril in the first drawing shows a pepperpot with a ball finial on the top of the octagonal trellis structure. I am not sure what other data there is about the form of the Villa d’Este trellis-work as executed, but it is possible that it had such pepperpots, and that this is why Brill shows them. In the second drawing (Figs 10, 11) the octagonal building is separated from the rest, but it looks like it rises above a section of barrel-vaulted trellis-work with an arched opening. The frieze breaks out into a compound pediment, or else a shallow triangular pediment with a shallow segmental opening. There is a round opening in the octagonal dome and a pepperpot with a ball finial. Putting this against the Vrancx suggests the following scenario. The main barrel vault of Vrancx’s structure derives from the barrel-vaulted trellises, especially the one in the second Bril drawing, if not the Villa d’Este itself. The round-headed entrance was suggested by the one in the octagon in both Bril drawings, marriedto the pedimented opening in the barrel-vaulted trellis in Duperac. The rhythm of this with the round heated features in Duperace suggested the pedimented opening-rounded headed window sequence in Vrancx. Vrancx’s round dome can be seen as a variation on the octagonal ones, the oval windows a development of the round one in the secomd Bril drawing. The volutes and umbrella finial, however, Vrancx’s contribution, or are from some other source, as in the blockiness of his ‘frieze’.

Some may find such a reading too speculative, and there are a number of ways one can formulate Vrancx’s assumed choices, but I believe that this is the way an artist like Vrancx worked. The result is a building which can be understood an an original architectural creation (not such a pictorial one) that riffs on the trellis work of the Villa d’Este as seen through Bril’s eyes.


Marianna Haraszti-Takács, ‘Un tableau de Sebastian Vrancx à la Galerie des Maîtres Anciens’, Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 1961, 18, 51-62. BHR (1947-): Per K 540-5470.

Louisa Wood Ruby, Paul Bril: the drawings, Brussels, Brepols, 1999. UniM Baill 741.9493 RUBY 

[1] Sebastian Vrancx (Antwerp, 1573 – Antwerp, 1647), An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620. Oil on oak. 91 × 126 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Inv. 58.27. Harlequin in Renaissance pictures It is discussed by Haraszti-Takács, but I do not have access to this at the moment. Katritsky. says that it is signed. See the summary of Vrancx;s relationship with Bril in Ruby, p. 45, which focuses on his Roman ruin drawings. Vrancx arrived in Rome in 1596 ‘and clearly went right to work in the Bril studio’. From the beginning he drew Roman ruins, and some of his drawings ‘have motifs that stem from the Bril studio.’ But views corresponding to Bril’s are often made from different angles, indicating that he drew to the same motifs independently.

[2] Paul Bril (1554-1626), Le Mois de Mars: le travail de la vigne, 1598. Encre brune; lavis brun; pierre noire; plume, 196 x 340 mm. Paris, Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, Cabinet des dessins, Fonds des dessins et miniatures, Inv.19786. Recto.

[3] Paul Bril, Palace and Park with Terrace overlooking a River: May. Drawing, Paris, Louvre. Ruby, cat. 25.

This entry was posted in All Posts, Architectural paintings, Architecture, Art, Baroque architecture, Baroque Gardens, Fabriques, Garden History, Uncategorized, Villas and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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