A Caravaggesque meeting of friends
Theodoor Rombouts was one of the leading exponents of Caravaggism in Northern Europe. This painting now making its debut at auction is attributed to him. Seemingly a simple mythological scene, it turns out to be far more complex.
A somewhat unusual meeting on Mount Olympus.... Mars and Venus, entwined, have eyes only for each other, while Cupid flies above their heads. In the centre, Bacchus casts a conniving look at the viewer, emphasising the adulterous nature of this relationship. The god was one of Caravaggio's favourite models, inspiring several of his finest naturalistic paintings. The basket of fruit he holds was also a recurrent motif in the Lombard artist's work. The final figure in this gathering is Mercury, recognisable from his winged helmet. The messenger of the gods seems to be inviting the others to play with him. He holds out some dice, and we can see cards and a game of backgammon at his side. In this way, the presumed artist, Rombouts, combines a Flemish tavern scene with an Antique-style mythological setting. But he succeeds in conveying the whole world of Caravaggio in this painting, where the figures, treated with impressive realism, and entirely human in terms of both physique and attitude, take the place of the gods. Well-known for his scenes of banquets, taverns and musicians, Rombouts also produced several history paintings, like the Grande Allégorie de Cour de Justice (Great Allegory of the Court of Justice) commissioned by Gand city hall in 1627 (and now in the town's Musée des Beaux-arts), where the figures of virtues and rivers have affinities with these appealing gods of Olympus.