The world as a stage
Since the late renaissance, large halls of paintings lavishly decorated with works by famous artists of various schools and genres fulfilled collectors’ desire to display their status. Recalling these magnificent galleries, the masterpieces in this hall reveal the baroque predilection for artistic staging and theatrical role-play in portraits, history paintings, still lifes and landscapes with Flemish, Dutch and Italian notes. The artists represented here, such as Rubens, Rembrandt or Tintoretto were star painters in their lifetimes. Their unmistakable style, manifest in works by pupils and colleagues, shaped major schools of painting.
History painting enjoyed the highest reputation at the time. This was partly due to its venerable subjects from the Bible and mythology, and its morality. But it was also about the challenge of depicting the event at a key moment through characters with dramatic gestures and expressions, like a tableau vivant or film still.
Portraits also gave a grand mise-en-scène. Masters in the field captured not only the external appearance and social role of their customers, but also conveyed their personality and charisma with expressive poses, faces and gestures, as well as exuberant brushstrokes. Interestingly, Cologne art collector Everhard Jabach IV. was painted several times over the years by various artists, like a biography in paint. Artists’ self-portraits were particularly valuable. Collectors appreciated the dual presence of the painter, in the style and the likeness.
Monumental still lifes also present a portrait of the baroque lifestyle. The decorative arrangements show off possessions and pleasures, but warn at the same time against the transience of earthly delights. Majestic landscapes evoke similar sentiments. Nature, depicted dramatically with mighty clouds, cliffs and trees takes centre stage, while man plays only a minor part.