The Five Senses: Smell

One gallery in Seeing Nature is dedicated to Jan Brueghel the Younger’s The Five Senses series. Painted in 1625, this series is a close copy of five paintings by Brueghel’s father, Jan Brueghel the Elder (who painted the backgrounds) and Peter Paul Rubens (who painted the figures) in 1617–18, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Each painting focuses on one of the five senses, providing a platform for visitors to consider their own encounters with nature. Today we focus on Smell.

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Jan Brueghel the Younger, The Five Senses: Smell, c. 1625. Oil on panel, 27 5/8 x 44 5/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection

A cultivated garden overflows with the most popular plants of the early seventeenth century, including the exotic Crown Imperial tulip, irises, lilies, narcissus, anemones, hollyhocks, and carnations, all at the peak of beauty and fragrance. In the foreground, Cupid presents a sweet-smelling bouquet to Venus. Curled up nearby is a genet, a musk-producing mammal, as well as two guinea pigs—reminders that not all smells are pleasant.

In fact, the painting Smell features not only a cultivated garden overflowing these potent flowers, but installed in our museum, it also beautifully relates to the Phillips’s multisensory Laib Wax Room, a permanently-installed chamber lined with fragrant beeswax created by the German artist Wolfgang Laib.

Interpreting Per Kirkeby

Per Kirkeby_Untitled

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 1991

My initial response to Per Kirkeby‘s Untitled, on view in Postwar Germanic Expressions, is that it reminds me of the type of painting (if you can call it that) that I used to love doing as a child—remember these? They started out as heavy sheets of paper coated in black paint, but underneath was a hidden rainbow of colors. With a coin or a pencil, you could scratch off the black coat, allowing the colors to show.

When looking more closely at this painting, what comes to mind is that this is some sort of interpretation of one’s feelings. A pathetic fallacy, but in art. The dominance of the dark colors and the black in parallel to the small quantities of colorful ones taps into my emotions. I interpret the emotions behind this work as either depression or some sort of rebirth after tremendous pain. On the one hand, the dark colors closing in with only faint glimmers of light impart a certain sadness. On the other hand, the yellow paint and colors shining through cracks in the black background might signify a new beginning.

In the yellow splashes of paint, I see the outline of a paper plane; perhaps a tool planted here by the artist to let go and fly away from these emotions.

Olivia Bensimon, Marketing & Communications Intern

The Five Senses: Sight

One gallery in Seeing Nature is dedicated to Jan Brueghel the Younger’s The Five Senses series. Painted in 1625, this series is a close copy of five paintings by Brueghel’s father, Jan Brueghel the Elder (who painted the backgrounds) and Peter Paul Rubens (who painted the figures) in 1617–18, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Each painting focuses on one of the five senses, providing a platform for visitors to consider their own encounters with nature. Today we focus on Sight.

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Jan Brueghel the Younger, The Five Senses: Sight, c. 1625. Oil on panel, 27 5/8 x 44 5/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection

Jan Brueghel the Younger worked in a similar painting style to his father, and followed his father’s practice of depicting art galleries of both existing and imaginary collections. The painting Sight was most important—the foundation for art and science, making possible everything from sculpture and painting to celestial navigation, measurement, and mapping the globe.

Sight shows how art collections reflect both the wealth and the learning of their owners. It is a fitting allusion to the current owner of the painting, Mr. Allen, as well as the history of The Phillips Collection.