Michiel Sweerts ( 1618 – 1664 )Huile sur toile, vers 1658 – 1661, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Boy in a turban is generally linked to a group of paintings that Sweerts painted
at the end of his period of work in Amsterdam. There, he completed
two series on the subject of the five senses. In one series, which has a similar
format to the present painting, five male figures in exotic dress hold
objects and animals that bear a relation to the senses. The second series,
too, features the senses symbolised by young boys. There is no other work
attributed to Sweerts that can be linked with this oil painting on canvas,
however and this perhaps suggests the existence of a third series on the five
senses. The fact that the boy is holding a bouquet of flowers leads us to
suppose that the painting is a portrayal of the sense of smell. Objects such
as flowers, sweet-smelling fruit and vegetables and other scented things are
traditionally used in art to represent the sense of smell.
Sweerts was a portraitist and painter of allegorical scenes whose particular
style makes him a unique figure in Flemish painting of the 17th century.
The blue shawl worn by the boy provides a colour contrast to the pale
yellow of the turban, the spotless white of his shirt and the red of his sash,
as well as some of the flowers. The painting is notable for its brilliant rendering
of the turban and the skilled reproduction of the model.
Simon de Vos ( 1603 – 1676 )Huile sur toile, vers 1640
Musée départemental de Flandre, Cassel
Simon de Vos is known mainly for his genre paintings and portraits. This painting links both strengths. The two main figures dominating the foreground of the composition testify to the ability of the artist as a portraitist. Their positioning, the subtle colours used and most especially the proportions of these figures lend them an impressive presence. The expression on their faces reveals their love and the inclusion of lemons and pomegranates, symbols of faithfulness and passion respectively, is further witness to the nature of their relationship. The moral ‘ after - taste ’ of the lemon, to which 17th-century healing practices attributed a tempering influence, is a summons to enjoy things in moderation. At the same time, the contrast between their alluring, golden exterior and sour interior expresses a warning against being deceived by what one sees and against the bitter - sweet aspects of love. In the context of the senses, the allegories of touch, sight, taste and smell are entwined here with the relationship between man and woman and its erotic connotations.