In the first half of the 17th century, the affluent citizens of Brussels and Antwerp became interested in establishing their own private galleries. They were inspired in this desire by a celebrated model, one, however, that they could never hope to match: the collection begun in the early 17th century by the Spanish regent in Brussels. Parallel to this, and only in the southern Netherlands, a type of painting developed in which picture galleries were shown. During his regency (1647–1656), the most important Habsburg collector, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, assembled some 1400 paintings. This view of his gallery is likely fictitious in part because the high room with windows on the left is probably not exactly like any space that existed at the time. The size and proportions of some of the decoratively hung pictures have been altered, in reality, they could never have been hung in that combination. Here David Teniers, chamberlain, court painter and keeper of the archduke’s art collection, is accompanying the scholarly collector on a visit to his gallery. On the left, other visitors are grouped around a table, among them the diminutive castle chaplain, painter and later gallery director Antonius van der Baren. Among the elements often found in views of picture galleries are the paintings propped up in the foreground and the opening of the perspective to the rear, sometimes through a door or, as here, through large windows. Early examples of this type sometimes feature Christian didactic content, conveyed by a selection of pictures depicted in miniature; the portraits of Leopold Wilhelm’s gallery (nine in all), however, serve a purely ostentatious purpose. The one now in Vienna was sent to Prague by the brother of its owner, Emperor Ferdinand III, as evidence of the wealth of the archduke’s picturegallery. Most of the 51 Italian works shown in this painting are today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
© Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010