More about Allegory of Sight and Smell

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Next time you're on a road trip, and you're not driving, see if you can identify the paintings laying on the floor and displayed in the gallery in Brueghel's collaborative painting The Allegory of Sight and Smell.

Some of them belonged to the only owners of the original painting, the Habsburg Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, sovereigns of the Spanish Netherlands. One of the paintings is The Jaguars by Rubens, who some authors claim painted the allegory of sight within the larger painting. Another picture-within-the-picture is the Portrait of Charles the Bold by van der Weyden. A brass chandelier features the double-headed eagle of the House of Habsburg. If you enjoyed the CD-ROM games SimCity, Myst, and Cosmic Osmo as much as I did, you know how to look for "easter eggs," little inside jokes for nerds, hidden inside artworks. These are Renaissance easter eggs. It would be awesome if all of these were actual works belonging to the Archduke and Archduchess; there's no consensus yet as to whether this is the case.

Today, with eyes mostly unaware of the political power of the monarchies which once completely dominated the European scene, we might assume that nobles always had extra cash to spare, because their faces appeared on coins and banknotes. But, as you can see in this painting, which displays a portion of the royal collection of the first owners of the work, being an Archduke or an Archduchess can be expensive. You gotta pay the cost to be the boss. You have to support your family and court, first of all, which could be quite a large crowd, and then maintain an enormous number of assets which attest to the juridical legitimacy of your divinely-chosen noble birth.

Scholars were able to identify The Jaguars and the Portrait of Charles the Bold as part of the Brussels court because, unfortunately, the Habsburgs had to sell both of these a couple of decades later in order to maintain the rising cost of living. Even more sadly, eighty-eight years later, a fire tore through the sovereigns' castle in Brussels, destroying this work and its companion, Taste, Hearing and Touch. The ruins remained for over forty years because they couldn't afford to rebuild the castle. This painting is a faithful reproduction of the original.



Comments (1)

Kent Z

The Allegory of Sight and Smell is drawn by Jan Brueghel the Elder. There are many famous paintings within it, I can't call them by names, but those are famous paintings also. So, we can see how good the author is because he put other paintings into one by hand drawing.