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Dirck van Delen - A palatial interior with ladies and gentlemen feasting, entertained by Carnival mummers

Dirck van Delen

A palatial interior with ladies and gentlemen feasting, entertained by Carnival mummers

Oil on panel: 14.3(h) x 19.9(w) in / 36.2(h) x 50.5(w) cm
Signed centre left: D.V. DELEN / 1632

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BL 101



Heusden 1604/5 – 1671 Arnemuiden


A palatial interior with ladies and gentleman feasting, entertained by Carnival mummers


Signed centre left: D.V. DELEN / 1632

Oil on panel: 14 ¼ x 19 7/8 in / 36.2 x 50.5 cm

Frame size: 20 1/2 x 25 ¾ in / 52.1 x 65.4



Princesse Charles-Marie de Faucigny-Lucinge et Coligny, née Alix de Choiseul-Gouffier (1832-1915), Hôtel de la Vénerie Impériale, 12 rue de Marignan, Paris;

her estate sale, Drouot, Paris, 26th-30th November 1917, lot 46 Myran Eknayan, Paris;

his sale [Collection de M.E...], Drouot, Paris, 12th June 1926, lot 73;

his sale, Drouot, Paris, 12th June 1931, lot 14

Private collection, Europe


To be included in the catalogue raisonné of the work of Dirck van Delen being prepared by Bernard M Vermet



The painting is one of Van Delen’s most ambitious interiors. Though not exceptional in size, it stands out both for its architecture as for its staffage. The architecture is dominated by a heavy entablature on top of enormous pilasters with capitals of a more or less Tuscan order, but with small leaves. The oversized chimney piece has an entablature resting on two giant stone supports in the shape of a console. This lower part is reminiscent of the chimney piece in the work of Serlio that was copied in whole by Van Delen in a palace exterior of 1627 in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the rare, if not the only indication that Van Delen may have used the work of Serlio.

The upper part of the chimney piece is rectangular, to give it a more classicist appearance, similar to most other chimney pieces in Van Delen’s interiors. It is decorated with a statue of Fortuna, carrying a cornucopia.


Instead of the usual wooden coffered ceiling, this interior has a surbased vault with lunettes, which is more fitting for the enormous size and helps to maintain a rather intimate atmosphere in the space. The porch in the rear wall, with the balustrade on top of it, leads to an even higher building, with a gallery, apparently a church. The upper moulding of both the trail and the plinth of the balustrade, as well as the floral ornament in between, were painted after and over the three columns behind them, causing a dark discoloration in the otherwise yellowish marble.


The pilasters and frieze are richly decorated, which too is exceptional for Van Delen, who usually restricts the sculptural interior decoration to niches and portals. The influence of Hans and Paul Vredeman de Vries, so prominently present in earlier works by Van Delen, is hardly recognizable anymore. The garlands with fruit and flowers are full and voluminous and the ribbons to which they are attached thick and broad, producing a full-blown baroque character that is still absent in the rare comparable examples of Hans Vredeman de Vries, such as his Arch near the old Sint Janspoort from the 1582 Joyous Entry of François d’Anjou into Antwerp.


The figures around the table are dwarfed by the architecture behind them. They have been attributed to Anthonie Palamedesz., but Van Delen never worked with him. The figures are not, as one would expect in such a case, painted on top of the architecture, but inside a space that was left reserved from the beginning. Most of the lines of the tiles stop just before the figures and only continue under the feet and chair of the rearmost man on the right corner of the table. The lines of the caps of the pedestals stop abruptly after penetrating only a fraction into the brown and grey hats of two men on the left behind the table, the same way as they do underneath the wing of the chimney piece a bit further on. Architecture and staffage were conceived together and done at the same time and, therefore, by the same hand, that is by Dirck van Delen himself. The figures are more loosely painted than is common, adding to their liveliness, and with many of Van Delen’s characteristics, such as the round faces with black coallike eyes, high eyebrows and small, slightly opened mouths. The statue of Fortuna shows the same characteristics, especially the mouth, adding to the unlikelihood that Palamedesz. was involved. (In fact Van Delen never worked with Palamedesz. and only rarely with others, mostly after the 1640s).


In other interiors of the same period the staffage plays a rather insignificant, passive role. The figures seem mere decoration, filling the otherwise empty space. In 1628 however Van Delen painted an interior, now in the Frans Halsmuseum in Haarlem, with a very prominent group of more than thirty people, eating, talking, playing and making music, copied after Dirk Hals from an interior of which the architecture was painted by Bartholomeus van Bassen, while in 1636 Van Delen made several interiors with only a few, but very large figures, in which he tried to excel in rendering the fabrics of the clothes, especially the intricate white lace collars and shining black velvet.


Just halfway between these two experimental approaches, this work stands out as his most ambitious attempt to search for variation and a more daring stage setting. For it Van Delen used several sources, most of them, as usual, derived from contemporary prints, though none to the extent of exact copying. Van Delen used the same method for the architecture in his earlier works, but his staffage, when inspired by prints, is usually copied quite literally. The fact that he did not copy literally in this case, strengthens the suggestion that Van Delen wanted to give his staffage a leading role here. It is as if Van Delen used his sources for inspiration, combining and transforming them into an entirely new composition.


The couple entering the room is masked, the man is wearing a turban and the woman wears a crown and has her arms crossed in front of her. We know this pose from peasant wedding processions in paintings from Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his school.


The matrimonial connotation is obvious, but placed in a Carnival setting. The couple is accompanied by two men with torches, one dressed as a monk with a feathered hat, and three musicians, playing on a lute, a gridiron and an oddly twisted ram’s horn.


The pose of the man with the lute is similar to that of young pages in several of Van Delen’s paintings from the early 1630s, such as one of the large canvases with members of the House of Orange and their entourage, from the Rijksmuseum.


In combination with the couple, however, there seems to be a relation with a print of a masked company in Venice by Pieter de Jode I (1570 Antwerp 1634) after Lodewijk Touput (Antwerp ca. 1550 – ca. 1603 Treviso), from around 1595.

The text under the print questions the morals of (the) masked people:

larvatae incedunt venetae, cur luce puellae?

An fugitant lucem, si bene quid faciunt?

Luxuriant animi rebus plerumque secundis.

Divitiis alitur luxuriosus amor.


(Why do Venetian girls walk masked during the day? / Or why do they avoid the light if what they do is good? / Feelings generally run riot in prosperity / Voluptuous love is nurtured by riches.

The last two lines are from Ovid, Ars Amatoriae 2:437 and Remedia Amoris 746 respectively).



There is a second print of a masked couple of which the man is wearing a turban. It is plate 6 from a series of masquerades from 1595/96 by Jaques de Gheyn II (Antwerp ca. 1585 – 1629 The Hague).


As in Van Delen’s painting, the couple is accompanied by a man with a torch, suggesting a night-time event. The Latin text on the title page of this series – written by Hugo de Groot, at the age of  twelve!– is  similar in intention to the one on the print by De Jode:


Detrahe personam simulator, detege vultum. Iam facere hoc mortis cogeris imperio. Detrahit illa tibi personam, detegit illa. Vultum: iam vultum sisteris ante Dei. ...


(Take off your mask, you hypocrite, reveal your face. Soon death will command it to you. He rips off your mask, revealing your face; soon you will stand before God's face. …).


Given this negative purport and the peacock feathers – symbols of vanity – of the woman’s headdress, it is likely that the turban too must be seen not only as an innocent part of fancy dress, but as a negative symbol in itself, comparable to the Turkish half moon, known from so many sixteenth century images.


The sexual references that are made in the text on the De Jode print are absent in the text by Hugo de Groot, but not in the prints. Plate number two shows a masked musician playing the lute for a couple of which the woman has donkey ears and a pair of glasses, as symbols of her stupidity and near-sightedness, while the man has the mask, or even the head of a turkey-cock, symbolizing his haughtiness and excessive libido.


Plate number three shows a veiled woman, probably a bride as well, accompanied by two musicians, playing on a bellows and a gridiron.


A gridiron player, also present with Van Delen, appears regularly in carnival representations, for example behind the fat man on the beer barrel in Bruegel’s famous Battle between Carnival and Lent.


The gridiron appears in a third print that might have been a source for both De Gheyn and Van Delen: The House of Ill Repute, from 1588, by Johan Sadeler I (Brussels 1550 – 1600 Venice) after Joos van Winghe (Brussels 1544 – 1603 Frankfurt am Main).


The two kettle musicians are entering from the left, while a young woman is giving a money bag to an old matchmaker in the doorway on the right. The rest of the room is filled with women entertaining men while drinking, dancing, caressing and playing backgammon. The text below the print is a shortened citation from the Wisdom of Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), chapter 19, verses 2 and 3: 


Vinum et mulieres apostatare faciunt sapientes [et arguent sensatos]. Et qui se iungit fornicariis erit nequam [putredo]


(Wine and women will make men of understanding to fall away: and he that cleaveth to harlots will become impudent).


In a painting of the same subject with partly the same composition by Joos van Winghe, owned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, there are three paintings decorating the wall: from left to right Lot seduced by his daughters, Hermaphroditus seduced by Salmacis and Tobit catching the fish that will save him from becoming Sara’s eighth husband to die on the wedding night.

Here men are women's victims. In another brothel scene however, signed and dated WA 1628, the paintings on the wall show the opposite opinion.

From left to right, difficult to see, are paintings of Susanna and the Elders, Diana and Actaeon and two naval scenes, probably with a storm or shipwreck, to hint towards men’s mood in affairs of the heart.


This last painting, though far inferior in quality, is closest to Van Delen’s painting in subject matter, with its masked couple, accompanied by musicians, entering a crowded room by night. With Van Delen however, there are no beds, no matchmaking, no kissing and no smoking, drinking and playing. Instead the couples are simply dining and talking. Van Delen’s staffage may be less outspoken, but his intention is similar: There is a very prominent place for the chimney in which huge flames are visible. Several comparable images are known from prints after Adriaen van de Venne in the emblem books by Jacob Cats. In his Spiegel van den Ouden ende Nieuwe Tijd (Mirror of the old and new time),  published in The Hague in 1632, there is a print on page 138 of an amorous couple in front of a fireplace, with the text Amour de putain feu de paille: The love of a harlot (is like) burning of straw.


The print is followed by a long poem including the following lines:


Want die gluy brenght in de schou,

Om dat hy het branden sou,

Siet voor eerst een schoone vlam,

Die schier aen de solder quam;

Maer het is terstont gedaen

Als de fluyster is gegaen;


Ick was eens gestreelt, gekust,

En ick swom in volle lust;

Maer, hoort vorder, soete jeught!

Dit en was maer korte vreught;

Want als 't gelt was uyt-geteert,

En mijn renten op-gesmeert,

Quam'er stracx een hart besluyt,

Want ick moest ten huysen uyt,

En een ander quam te roer,

Dien gingh 't juyst als ick'er voer:



(For he who puts straw in the chimney / To make it burn / sees at first a beautiful flame / That almost reaches to the ceiling; / But it is done with at once / When the glimmer is gone / … / Once I was kissed and caressed / And I swam in full lust / … / But hear forth, sweet youth / This was only a short joy / For when the money was spent / And my interest consumed / Came instantly the hard verdict / That I had to leave the house, / And someone else came at the helm / Whom it fared just like me / …)


There is a related print, by Jan Gerritsz. Sweelinck and also after Adriaen van de Venne, in the 1627 edition of Jacob Cats’s Proteus or Sinne- en minnebeelden, (Proteus or emblems and images of love), with a couple near the fire towards which the man is holding a torch. An accompanying poem explains that love is like a torch: it should be handled with care and only touched and held at the right side to give you pleasure.


A contemporary verse in English expresses the same sentiments:

Thake Good advise and then holde fast;

Or else you will repent at last.

Who dallies with fonde love, or with a burninge fierie brande:

Except hee looke wel to his holde, may chance to burne his hande;

Two endes each of these have, the one is colde the other burninge:

Who grypeth fast the one is well: but th'other turnes to mourninge.

A twofolde end fonde love procures, and bringes us in her powre,

Of wealth, and woe, of joy and payne, whose taste is sweete and sowre,

Yet all hereof dependes you see, in th'handlinge of this brande,

For th'one with this shee doth assist, but th'other burnes his hande.][1].


Vn Delen’s inventory, made after his death, shows that he had copies of both books by Jacob Cats, but if we compare both prints with the painting, as well as with the morals expressed in the other prints mentioned above, it seems that Van Delen was inspired most by the one from 1632. This means that the painting must have been made immediately after the publication and that the publication might even have motivated Van Delen to make it. The works of Cats, who was also from Zeeland, were so popular and Van Delen’s library so extensive, that it is very possible that he indeed acquired a copy right after publication.


                                                                        Bernard M Vermet