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Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts (c. 1610- after 1675) – Trompe l’oeil. Board Partition with Letter Rack and Music Book, 1668

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts

A life of joke

Self-portrait in “Still Life with Self- Portrait”

Cornelis Gijbrechts (1630 – 1675) is a Flemish artist and painter of whom we know little.  We can guess from his type of paintings that he was an anecdote personality and pleasant tricky character.   Gijbrechts worked in North Europe and especially Denmark, and was a court painter for most his life.  Under the wing of Frederik III and Christian V, later, he created paintings the Royal Danish Cabinet of Curiosities.  He created trompe l’oeil style paintings and he was a master of the genre and was very renowned for his creations at his time. Most of his paintings are on display at the National gallery of Denmark.

Trompe l’oeil paintings translated from the French as ‘the deception of the eye’, is as the name suggest a vanity painting that is used to trick the viewer into a clever illusion.  The three dimensional and exact in detail and representation of the sketch seduced the observers mistaking the flat painting as real life and was a comic effect at the time.  It is typical of the baroque style of the period with its witty illusionism and metaphor.  Princes and monarchs used such paintings to amuse themselves and their distinguished guests, and to employ the idea of their understanding of art and technology.

Deceiving pin wall

One of the spirited examples of Trompe l’oeil paintings by Gijsbrechts is the “Board Partition with Letter Rack and Music Book.”  The intention of the painter is clearly to deceive the spectator in believing that he is facing a real pin board of the time, also known as letter walls.  The artist has really made his task believable, in making the observer believe that this two dimensional canvas is a real tree dimensional sculptural surface of letters and objects.  To this day this trickery fascinates us and to what is more offers us a view of a custom of the seventeenth century of having boards where they would pin their notes and sketches, used as to this day as reference boards.

An alegorical portrait

It is noted that this habit resembles a little side portrait of a character depicting through these notes and sketches who the figure of this diagram belongs to, what are his customs and depictions of reality.  It was used to that day as an alternative portrait painting, where the absent person of the work is presented through an accumulation and juxtaposition of objects. It is a humorous task very likely to the trompe l’oeil paintings and relevant to the entertaining and comical approach to the reality of the Court.

Humor and aesthetics

Aesthetically Gijsbrechts has demonstrated an articulate image, where the objects in the painting are very maestrically positioned on the board and canvas, creating a symmetrical synthesis that is pleasing to the eye, besides deceiving it. All these trunks of paper and musical notes and sketches and scribbled lines are grasping the moment of spontaneity and make a story to be read with precision and attentiveness.  The black curtain is hiding half of the board, and enhances the impulsiveness and neutrality of the synthesis, thriving in its attempt to fool the observer.  To what is more, it forms a diagonal edit to the composition, appealingly and visually elevating the subject both in its synthetic value and its attempt to offer a grasp of the moment picture pined on the wall waiting for the possible victims of comic deceit.

Humor over time

It is a view of art that strives not to astound with its mastery technique, although it does not lack expertise in performance, nor in its revelation of aesthetics or historical or mythical depiction, it states in its moderate character the qualities of perception through this allegorical portrait.  This painting with ease manages to overtake us with its wit and jocularity and of course intelligence.  It has with extreme dexterity portrayed this symbolic compositions, which to this day, force us to believe when seen closely, that one may raise his hand and grasp this little piece of paper to read and touch and feel.  What entertained the dukes and kings, this element that so fittingly dramatized the acts of the court, is still a joyous demonstration of humor and skill.

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Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts (c. 1610- after 1675) – Trompe l’oeil. Board Partition with Letter Rack and Music Book, 1668


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