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Feast in the Park of the Duke of Mantua

Sébastien Vranckx

(1573 - 1647) | 890.1.1

Date : Circa 1595 | Medium : Oil on canvas

This painting belongs to a particular category of landscape painting, that of the idealised garden. At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, Sebastian Vranckx, alongside his contemporaries Louis de Caullery and Lucas Van Valkenborch, was an exponent of this tradition in Flemish painting.

Every aspect of this picture is chosen to create an ideal vision of an Italian Renaissance garden: its porticoed pavilions, its walkways and parterres depicted with strict adherence to the rules of perspective, the fountain and decorative antique statues in their Mannerist poses; each element is placed to create a whole that harmonises perfectly.

The idyllic setting is naturally dedicated to the pleasures of love. In the foreground, a picnic is taking place in which erotic allusions abound – such as the lute player, the shape of the fruit and the young man who is pouring the lady her drink from a height. The sculptures at the corners of the garden represent Ceres, the goddess of corn, on the right, and Bacchus, god of wine, on the left. For anyone viewing the picture at the time, there is clear reference to the maxim of the Latin poet Terence, ‘Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would freeze.’ Another sculpture of Bacchus has pride of place in the centre of the painting, above a couple strolling under a trellis tunnel. In the pavilion on the right hand side, a table is being laid for a feast, and in the one on the left, there is further erotic innuendo in the game of billiards that is underway.