In this work by seventeenth-century Flemish genre painter David Teniers, a couple stands at the entrance to a stable. Their dress immediately strikes the viewer as exotic, reminiscent of Old Testament scenes, Polish noblemen, or Turkish merchants. A boy kneeling at the right looks out at the viewer as he ties a rope to a greyhound's collar, and a group of men stand and converse in the middleground at the left. The man and woman are less well matched upon closer inspection and Teniers seems to deliberately point out their differences. With the repetition of the yellow and white of her dress, Teniers relates the woman visually to both the startled dog at her feet and the white horse with the yellow blanket standing inside the stable. Her companion is, likewise, connected to the men on the lower level through their similarly exotic dress. The pairing of the man and woman is, at the same time, paralleled by that of the horses at the far left - a larger brown horse with a white patch on its head is brought up next to the white one by a groom.
The man's velvet tunic, fur lined jacket, and feathered hat would have been described in the seventeenth century as Hungarian dress, a combination of Western and Eastern elements derived from Ottoman garments brought to Hungary by the Turks. The long-sleeved tunic with silk and metal thread embroidery was worn over a shirt of undecorated linen and under a 'dolman', a tightly fitting coat cut straight to the waist with a flare at the side to form full a skirt. Winter dolmans were made of heavy silk or velvet and were worn, as seen in the painting, half way down the thigh. Belts of colorful silk were wrapped around the waist and Hungarian pants fit tight to the leg in order to accommodate boots worn high over the knee. Hats were either broad-brimmed, worn with the brim turned up, or, as in Teniers' painting, fur adorned with feathers. Apart from the shoes, the man at the entrance to the stable wears typically Hungarian dress.
Such costumes appear in a range of seventeenth-century Netherlandish paintings, including the portraits and landscapes of Dordrecht artist Albert Cuyp. Cuyp's sitters wear a combination of Dutch and Hungarian dress selected from costumes kept in the artist's studio and the choice of such dress seems to relate to the suggestion of status. Hungarians were generally thought of in the seventeenth-century Netherlands as accomplished horsemen and were admired for their equestrian prowess and powerful cavalry. They were also known as staunch defenders of Christianity and hunters of great skill. As hunting was restricted to the nobility in the southern Netherlands, a sitter could suggest not only his status by commissioning an equestrian portrait but his individual prowess by sporting Hungarian inspired attire.
However, no one rides the horses in Teniers' painting, and it can hardly be described as a portrait. This scene revolves around the exchange between this 'foreign' man and Dutch woman, standing on the threshold of a dark interior. Indeed, the woman's dress is as common as his is exotic. Her skirt, silk jacket, and short white cape are typical elegant dress for Netherlandish women of the period. Her feathered hat, on the other hand, is unusual. Women generally wore starched linen bonnets placed on the back of the head and, while boys and men appear in such hats in other of Teniers' paintings, only one other woman in Teniers' published oeuvre wears one - in a drawing depicting the Parable of Dives and Lazarus in Paris (Musée du Louvre). This drawing is also dated to around 1647 and, while it is unrelated to A lady and gentleman entering a stable thematically, it is interesting to note that Teniers used this kind of hat in the Paris drawing in order to indicate chronological and geographical distance. If, as a skilled 'Hungarian' equestrian, the gentleman in the painting is in his element, the lady, as signified by the discord between her hat and her dress, is not. The wide-eyed expression of the dog that stands perfectly still as it is tied up may be an illustration of the young woman's situation - she may be in over her head.
David Teniers the Younger became a master painter in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1632 after an apprenticeship with his father. In 1637 he married Anna, the youngest daughter and heiress of Jan Brueghel the Elder, and served as Master of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in the St. Jacobskerk, a post he held until 1639. He was elected dean of the Guild of St. Luke in 1644 and was working for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Governor of the southern Netherlands, by 1647. In 1651 he was appointed court painter. He moved from Antwerp to Brussels in 1656 and bought a building near the archducal palace that he had rebuilt as a house and studio. His patrons included Leopold Willem's successor, Don Juan of Austria, Prince Willem II of Orange, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Philip IV of Spain. He used his prominent post at the court to lobby for the establishment of an art academy in Antwerp modeled on those in Paris and Rome.
We are grateful to Dr. Margaret Klinge for confirming the authenticity of this painting, which will be included in her forthcoming monograph on the artist.