David Teniers and Theatre of Painting, 19 October 2006 – 21 January 2007

In museum circles it is not unusual to hear temporary exhibitions described as a treadmill, a necessary condition of an environment in which there is a perceived correlation between income, or funding more generally, and visitor numbers. The risks are well understood and can involve a museum’s permanent collection being neglected in favour of projects which are essentially ephemeral in nature. The Courtauld has sought to address this by anchoring its exhibition programme firmly in the permanent collection. This approach has informed exhibitions as diverse in subject matter as Manet Face to Face, Oil Sketches by Tiepolo, and most recently Kokoschka: The Prometheus Triptych. And so too with the forthcoming exhibition: David Teniers and the Theatre of Painting.

The exhibition is the third to be based on works from the Princes Gate Collection, bequeathed by Count Antoine Seilern in 1978. The bequest included the largest surviving group of paintings produced by David Teniers for a ground-breaking publication called the Theatrum Pictorium or Theatre of Painting. In 1651 Teniers was appointed court painter to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the Habsburg Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Soon afterwards he painted a series of large innovative views of the Archduke’s picture gallery in Brussels, two of which will be included in the exhibition. These document what was one of the greatest princely collections of the age, a collection which had been assembled largely as the result of the dispersal of the English aristocratic properties after the Civil War. In around 1655 Teniers and his patron conceived a project that was even more ambitious in scope than the gallery interiors: a magnificent printed illustrated catalogue of the 243 of the Archduke’s greatest Italian masterpieces. This was to become the Theatrum Pictorium, the first printed illustrated catalogue of a major collection of paintings.

Teniers produced small copies in oil of each of the chosen paintings, issuing these as models to his engravers in order to ensure the accuracy of their work. Twenty-five of these copies will feature in the exhibition, including examples lent by the Royal Collection, Glasgow Museums and the National Gallery of Ireland. These will be shown alongside the prints for which they were made and in immediate proximity to the large views of the Archduke’s gallery in which many of the same works can be identified. Published in 1660, the importance of the Theatrum Pictorium was soon recognised and it was printed in four further editions. Several of these will be included in the exhibition. Alongside the gallery interiors on loan from the Museo del Prado and Petworth House, these will give an in depth account of this little known project, which should properly be regarded as a landmark in the history of art.


This exhibition is generously supported by Columbia Foundation and The Michael Marks Charitable Trust

David Teniers the Younger, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Gallery in Brussels, c.1651 © Museo Nacional del Prado, detail