Fabriques in Paintings 1: Sebastian Vrancx. Part C. The Figures.

This series of posts (A-C) discusses depictions of small buildings that I feel inclined to appropriate to the category of fabriques. Images by the author unless otherwise stated.

Sebastian Vrancx’s An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, depicts a banquet at 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.

The table is spread with food, but the party is breaking up and entertainers have begun their act. There are plates, and hence places, for six people down the left side of the table, and there are corresponding plates on the right except for the fifth. There is one plate at the head of the table, and one at the foot. Assuming six settings per side, the seating totals 14. I can see twelve people who aren’t servants, including one on the stairs and a couple beside the parapet. If we privilege the figures over the plates, and assume that the extra plate on the left is an inconsistency, we would have five persons on each side with one at each end, so perhaps the true setting is 5+5+2 (12 in total).

At the head of the table the chair, a ‘captain’s chair’ of higher status han the others, has been pushed back, with some linen folded over it (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. The host’s chair.

This is clearly the chair of the host, but where is he? The couple by the parapet would have been on the right side, which leaves the man on the stairs as the host, though what he is doing here is unclear (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. The man on the stairs

He wears the same tall grey hat as the two mean on either side of the host position, both of whom wear swords, which may mean that they are all part of the same household.

If we go clockwise around the table the seating is as follows (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. The guests at their table

A man receiving wine from a waiter (Fig. 5), whose left hand is close to, but does not touch, the hand of a woman beside him (Fig. 6).

Fig. 5. The man at the left.
Fig. 6. Hands of the man at left and the first woman.

This had seems to be resting on something; her other hand touches the edge of the table. She stares straight ahead at the woman opposite but is evidently with the man beside her. Next is a standing man wearing doublet and breeches who holds a fold of linen matching the one on the host’s chair over his right arm, and he supports his left arm on the table. Next is a woman in pink with a glass in her left hand and the other hand on her lap: these two must be a couple. Next is a woman wearing black with red hair and a ruff (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. The group at the end of the table.

She holds hands with the man at the foot of the table, also wearing a ruff and doublet. He has his arm outstretched, as if in conversation, Corresponding to the woman with a ruff is man in a tall black hat, ruff and doublet. One is prompted to read him as a woman but the clothing is male. He has no obvious partner unless it is the woman opposite and the man at the foot of the table is unattached but making progress with the woman beside him. Next would be the couple by the parapet (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. The couple at the parapet.

The woman was probably seated next to the foot of the table, which means that on either side of the foot of the table there would have been two pairs of women. The man wears a tall black hat, matching doublet and tunic-like breeches and a sword. Returning to the table, next comes a woman in blue and then the man to the right of his host, who wears a tall grey hat, leather doublet, and a roman-style leather(?) slashed skirt.

The Table

Looking more closely at the table setting, beside each plate is a small loaf of bread; I count 11, or possibly 12, loaves (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9. The table setting.

The plate in front of the host has what looks like fruit peelings (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10. The host’s plate.

The plate to his left has an oval object, probably a slice of bread, perhaps taken from the host’s loaf. The other plates are bare. Each placing seems to have a knife, of which seven are clearly visible. Down the middle of the table are seven serving plates, four of which contain roast birds with this claws visible (and possibly a fifth), one of which seems to be in a foetal arrangement. One plate has a pie of some kind with a gridded pattern, perhaps strips of pastry. The last plate looks messy, perhaps because what it contained has been consumed. Two placing have wine glasses, one empty, one half full, while one woman holds a glass in her hand and the man at the left of the host is having his glass filled.

The Entertainers

The party is being entertained by a troup of Commedia dell’Arte entertainers who emerge from a porch in the style of imaginary architects like Vredeman de Vries.[2] Between the columns of the porch is the Doctor (I think) (Fig. 11), behind him an Innamorata, Pantaloon, and at the side is a lute-Zanni) playing his lute like a rock star (Fig. 12).

Fig. 11. the doctor.
Fig. 12. The Commedia dell’arte troupe.

Between the steps and the table is a tumbler, which I think recalls Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Fig. 13).

Fig. 13. the Tumbler.

A stool nearby may be part of his act. A white dog is reacting to him and a boy, or perhaps dwarf, flees from the scene; this is surely part of the act.

The most fascinating member of a troupe is a woman whose headgear is an extravagant, and perhaps trangressive version of the headgear of the two women nearest the head of the table, who must be aristocrats (Fig. 14). She is presumably the Innamorata, although in commedia dell’Arte the Innamorata is not normally masked.

Fig. 14. The headdresses of the two women at the front and the Innamorata.

I do not know the name of the starched-looking hairpiece. The player has a piece attached at the back of the hed to which red, blue and white plumes are attached, as well as semi-transparent forms that look like the wings of a giant insect like a dragonfly (Fig. 15).

Fig. 15. The Innamorata (?).

There is another plume or feather attached at the top of the starched part. Her lace collar is artfully spiky and her decolletage is slightly more prominent than the other women. It would be good to know about the history and signaficance of the headgear of these three women.

Venus and Cupid

Another figure of interest is Venus in the group of Venus and Cupid at the foot of the stairs (Fig. 16).

Fig. 16. The Venus and Cupid statue

This is rather unclassical in that Venus is as animated as the ‘living figures’ as unclassically alive. She has her hair up in a contemporarty style and displays a pert profile with uptilted nose (Fig. 17).

Fig. 17. Head of Venus statue

Her body displays a twist hat goes beyond classical contrapposto, and she displays it artfully displays using a cloak that is draped over her left arm and tied around her neck so that it falls down her back. Her hips are somewhat narrow, so that her right side forms a shallow undulating vertical line from armpit to Cupid. Her presence, of course, signifies hat it is a pleasure garden, as the acivities of the living figures make obvious. Matching her position at the base of the stairs us a statue of Apollo.


M. A. Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput: some pictures related to the “commedia dell’arte”’, Renaissance Studies, March 1987, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 71-125 JSTOR Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24410012

M. A. Katritzky, ‘Harlequin in Renaissance pictures’, Renaissance Studies , December 1997, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 381-419.

[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. Image from the Museum website.

[2] The main discussion of Commedia dell’arte in paintings like this seem to be by Katritzky. My identifications of the figures is a little hazy.

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

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