Paintings attributed to Theodoor Rombouts
The two large paintings found on the staircase leading to the Museum, entitled Allegory of the Five Senses and The Game of Tric-Trac, portray two tavern scenes. This painting style was rather popular and widespread in Rome in the years after Caravaggio during the first half of the 1600s. It was distinguished by the naturalistic representation of the individual in a style that was halfway between portraiture and genre painting, between the accurate and fleshy reproduction of physiognomies and the representations of allegories. The protagonists of these scenes, such as soldiers, courtesans, lovers, musicians and gamblers, are represented in a monumental format. They are characterized by elaborate attire and stand out in the pictorial space, moving in a theatrical manner and flaunting their gestures. They turn their attention from the scene, looking us in the eye and gazing ‘outside the painting’ with irreverent naturalness.
The Allegory of the Five Senses portrays five characters seated around a table: on the left a finely dressed young man playing an archlute symbolizes Hearing; in front of him are a musical score, a horn and a recorder. To his left, a young woman gazing at her reflection in a mirror personifies Sight. The bearded old man warming himself before a small brazier on the table represents Touch. The girl who carries a bunch of flowers and holds a rose to her nose alludes to Smell. The young drunk with his head surrounded by vines and bunches of grapes, making a toast with a cup brimming with wine, symbolises Taste.
It forms a companion piece with the other painting entitled The Game of Tric-Trac, or backgammon, as it is known today. This painting also represents a tavern scene animated by people involved in the game and the music, who move like actors on a stage: a soldier, a courtesan, a musician holding an 11 course baroque lute in his hand, an innkeeper and two patrons. Their eyes meet with open complicity, and their hand gestures are the undisputed protagonists of the pictorial space.
Both paintings can be attributed to the Flemish painter Theodoor Rombouts. A native of Antwerp, Rombouts worked in Rome from 1616 to 1625, where he discovered Caravaggesque painting.
The two paintings were acquired by the National Museum of Musical Instruments in 1972 to be placed in the Baroque-style space, which displays instruments similar to those depicted in the two paintings, as well as a complete set of checkers for the game of backgammon.