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All That Glistens

Anonymous Flemish painter, 17th century
The Interior of the Linder Gallery with Personifications of Pictura and Disegno
oil on copper
22 ¼ x 32 ⅜ inches
56.5 x 82.2 cm
Lent by a private collection

Created almost four hundred years ago, the enigmatic Linder Gallery is a remarkable painting on copper that brings the worlds of art and science into collision. Formerly in the Thomas Mellon Evans Collection and with the Viennese Rothschilds before that, the painting depicts the interior of a picture gallery with a collection of paintings by Flemish, Dutch and Italian artists, an assortment of sculpture and an impressive selection of astronomical and mathematical instruments. The gallery, with a vaulted ceiling, looks out over a formal garden with a fountain. In the foreground is a bearded old man with a young woman lying in his lap. These two figures can be related to another gallery interior, attributed to Adraien van Stalbemt, which has been identified by Matthias Winner as an allegory of pictura and disegno.

There is a drawing in the Royal Collection, Windsor (inv. no. RL 12983; fig. 1) that bears a striking resemblance to the Linder Gallery. Attributed to Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642), it appears to have been acquired during the reign of George III as ‘by some Flemish master’. In keeping with numerous Antwerp gallery interiors from the studios of Francken and his contemporaries, the drawing depicts three men discussing a painting that rests on a chair. Alongside the group is an octagonal table on which there is a globe, some mathematical instruments and writing materials. As in the Linder Gallery, the walls are hung with paintings and there are several pieces of sculpture in the room. The resemblances between the compositional sketches of these paintings in the Windsor drawing and those on the walls in the Linder Gallery suggest that the drawing was executed before the painting, possibly by the same artist.

Fig 1. Frans Francken the Younger, A Picture Gallery, 39.7 x 60.6 cm © Royal Collection, inv. no. RL 12983

The creation of the Linder Gallery was clearly a complex collaborative venture. A coat of arms visible in the window at the top left-hand side of the painting is identifiable as that of the Linder family. The painting was likely commissioned by Peter Linder, a German merchant who studied mathematics with the architect and mathematician Mutio Oddi of Urbino. It is probable that it was commissioned when Oddi and Linder were both living in Milan between 1621 and 1625 because, according to a letter from 1629 describing the work, Oddi himself was largely responsible for the subject matter of the painting. Oddi’s involvement is noteworthy as a rich example of a close collaboration between a mathematical practitioner and a painter. Given that the painting includes a portrait medal of Mutio Oddi that was not cast until 1627, it is reasonably certain that the painting was completed after that year.

The present work is somewhat atypical for a Flemish gallery interior of the early seventeenth century in that no naturalia – such as flowers, nautilus shells and coral for example – are included within the gallery space. Instead, special prominence and care is given to the mathematical instruments. Together, the instruments and associated objects represented on the three tables in the foreground of the painting provide a visual catalogue of the mathematical arts and of disegno. The Linder Gallery appears to make a strong claim for the various mathematical arts, from astrology to surveying and astronomy, as branches of disegno, whether occupied in the delineation of the heavens or the production of perspectival views.

Displayed on the central octagonal table, perspectivally inconsistent with the rest of the painting, there is a celestial globe that can probably be attributed to Willem Jansz. Blaeu, an Arsenius astrolabe, a Jacob’s Staff for astronomical measurements, a Galileian compass with an alidade and a perspective instrument similar to that invented by the Nuremberg goldsmith Wentzel Jamnitzer, with a perspective view of a colonnade. This table also display various compasses, pens, an inkwell, lenses, an hourglass and an open book of drawings on which rests an engraving identifiable as the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine by the Master MZ. There are portrait medals representing the architects Mutio Oddi and Donato Bramante, the physician and astrologer Girolamo Cardano, the jurist Andrea Alciati and the celebrated artists Dürer and Michaelangelo. Two books behind and to the right of the globe can be identified as Tabulae Rudolphine and Haromices Mundi, both by Johannes Kepler. At the front of the table is a diagram depicting three cosmic systems, the geocentric Ptolemaic system, the heliocentric Copernican system and the geoheliocentric Tychonic system. Partially hidden behind the diagram is an astrological geniture.

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The two red tables in the painting – one on the left, the other on the right – each bear related instruments. On the left-hand table, a sixteenth century ebony and gilt table clock, probably from Augsburg, is paired with another German table clock on the right-hand side. A pair of compasses on the left-hand table is set against a beam compass used for drawing arcs of long-radius circles. A gunner’s level on the left is set against a triangulation instrument that is similar to one that appears in Jan Brueghel the Younger’s Allegory of Sight (Venus and Cupid in a picture gallery) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (John G. Johnson Collection, 1917. Cat. 656; fig. 2). Finally, an armillary sphere on the left is paired with a concave mirror on the right, adjacent to a small double-portrait. In this double-portrait there is a balding man on the left pointing to a perspectival drawing. To the right, there is a younger man with a palette and paintbrush looking at the drawing. On close inspection, the drawing can be seen to represent the perspectival scheme shared by the Windsor drawing and the present painting. It seems the artist on the right is painting the picture itself and it is probable that this double-portrait is a representation of the patron and painter, while also underlining the dependence of pictura on perspectival disegno.

Fig. 2 Jan Brueghel the Younger, Allegory of Sight (Venus and Cupid in a Picture Gallery), ca. 1660 © Philadelphia Museum of Art

This double-portrait can be closely connected to a painting by Daniele Crespi from around 1625 (fig. 3). In Crespi’s painting, Mutio Oddi is showing Peter Linder a diagram relating to the geometry of burning mirrors. Like Linder, Crespi studied the mathematical arts with Oddi. There is a striking compositional similarity between the double-portrait in the Linder Gallery and the painting by Crespi. Moreover, the beam compass and concave mirror depicted by Crespi are identical to the ones depicted in the Linder interior. The presence of these instruments in both paintings suggests they may have been owned by Linder.

Fig. 3 Daniele Crespi, Portrait of Mutio Oddi and Peter Linder, ca. 1625. Private collection, Milan
Detail of the present painting

While it is tempting to suppose that the figure on the right in the double-portrait contained within the Linder painting is a self-portrait of the artist, the attribution of the picture remains problematic. A note dated May 10, 1623, written by Oddi and related to his dealings in mathematical instruments, reads, ‘to Signor Pietro Linder for the Fleming, two compasses, one small and the other medium-length’. The only Flemish painter of gallery interiors known to have been present in Milan between 1621 and 1625, when the commission is likely to have taken place, is Jan Brueghel the Younger. While it seems feasible that his presence in Milan may have been connected in some way to the commissioning of the Linder Gallery, the quality of painting is substantially better than Jan Brueghel the Younger’s work. It is stylistically more consistent with the collaborations between Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrick van Balen, but the presence of the Tabulae Rudolphine and the Oddi medal mean that it must have been completed after the death of Brueghel the Elder in 1625. The frequent interchange of commissions between Antwerp and Milan and the fact that most Flemish gallery interiors were collaborative works further complicates the question of attribution. ❖

(Probably) commissioned by the German merchant Peter Linder, Milan

By descent in the family, ca. 1640

Baron Anselm Salomon von Rothschild (1803-1874), Viena, ca. 1850

Thence by descent in the family

with Newhouse Galleries, New York (as Jan Brueghel the Elder)

Thomas Mellon Evans Collection, acquired directly from the above, 1959 (as Jan Brueghel the Elder)

His sale, New York, Christie’s, 22 May 1998, lot 8 (as Flemish School)

Private collection, New York


Michael John Gorman and Alexander Marr, ‘“Others see it yet otherwise”: disegno and pictura in a Flemish gallery interior’, The Burlington Magazine, February 2007, vol. CXLIX, pp. 85-91.

Michael John Gorman, A Mysterious Masterpiece: The World of the Linder Gallery, Florence, 2009.

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