The picture is signed by Frans Francken II, and his authorship of the figures and sculpture and probably the paintings is not to be doubted. The initials 'Dj' which prefix Francken's signature, stand for 'den jonge' (the younger), an appellation that Francken used up until his father's death in 1616 and into the 1620s. The separate set of initials alongside the signature cannot be deciphered and it is unclear in any case whether these refer to the identity of Francken's collaborator.
The attribution of the architecture to Hendrick van Steenwijck II is made on the basis of its similarity with the only other secular interior that the artist provided for Francken to introduce the figures - an Allegory of the Five Senses, which was with Galerie Bailly, Paris, 1986 (U. Härting, Frans Francken der Jüngere, Freren, 1989, p. 357, no. 396, and p. 164, fig. 143). Formerly thought to be by Dirck van Delen, the architecture in the Paris picture was attributed to Steenwijck by Härting in 1989 (loc. cit.). Both interiors are of a long hall seen from a central raised viewpoint with a doorway at the end wall opening into another room. The marble entrance porch with its doric columns and the three sets of windows down the left side feature, in almost identical fashion, in both works. In the present picture, the ceiling is barrel vaulted and coffered, lending an enhanced sense of space to the picture as a whole. The Paris picture differs in that a large archway has been included on the right, along with a chimneypiece, in place of the shelves, at the end wall. The walls are hung with only three pictures and the figures, mostly female, are personifications of the senses.
As was typical for Francken, the connoisseurs who populate the gallery are dressed in fancy, Burgundian-style costume, and are of the type referred to as Konstliefebbers by Zirka Filipczak (Picturing Art in Antwerp 1550-1700, New Jersey, 1987). They are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, studying manuscripts and sculpture at a table and considering the pictures of an imaginary encyclopaedic collection.
The pictures displayed, reading from left to right and top to bottom, are: Pyramus and Thisbe in the style perhaps of David Teniers I; The Burning Troy (?) in the style of Hans Jordaens, both propped up against the left hand wall. On the far wall is The Judgement of Midas loosely derived from an engraving by Antonio Tempesta, first published in 1606; The Good Samaritan in the style perhaps of Rubens; a Man o' War off the Coast in the style of Hendrick Vroom; a pair of indistinct oval portraits; on the floor, leaning against the wall, is a Wooded Landscape in the style of Abraham Govaerts; in the centre, a Tower of Babel in the style of Hendrick van Cleve; beside it, a Wooded Landscape in the style of Alexander Keirincx; and The Burning Troy in the style of Jan Breughel I. On the right wall hangs: Cephalus and Procris in the style of Francken; The Forge of Vulcan (?) in the style of Jan Breughel I; Narcissus loosely derived from an engraving by Antonio Tempesta, first published in 1606; The Crowning with Thorns after Sir Anthony van Dyck; Venus mourning the Death of Adonis in the style of Rubens; a Still Life in the style of Jacob Foppens van Es; an oval Man o' War in a Storm in the style of Hendrick Vroom; a Madonna and Child surrounded by a garland of Flowers in the style of Jan Breughel I and Frans Francken II. On the wall, propped against the wall is an arched top Adoration of the Magi in the style of David Teniers I, which is partially hidden by an unframed Landscape in the style of Joos de Momper. In the central foreground, propped up against chairs, are: Saint Jerome close to a work by Michiel Coxie in a Swiss private collection; Flowers in a Vase in the style of Jan Breughel I; and a Church Interior at Night by Hendrick van Steenwyck II.
Maquettes of classical-style sculptures and portrait busts are displayed on the far shelves and on the table, and above the cornice stand two larger allegorical figurines. Pentiments above the Judgement of Midas reveal that a pair of reclining figurines have been painted out. As is the case with the pictures, none of the sculpture seems to recur exactly in other interiors by the artist. For a discussion of the sculpture that appears in Francken's gallery interiors, see K. van der Schueren, 'De Kunstkamers van Frans Francken II: een kritische analyse van de aldaar aanwezige sculptuur', Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, 1996.
A terminus post quem for the paintings is provided by The Crowning with Thorns, hanging on the right wall, which is a simplified derivation from the painting by van Dyck, datable to circa 1620, in the Prado, Madrid. If the attribution to Steenwijk is to be sustained, it must be assumed that he returned to Antwerp from time to time from London where he is documented from 1617. Judging by two church interiors in which he collaborated with Francken, Härting argues convincingly that Steenwijck was indeed active in his native city in the 1620s (ibid., p. 165, and p. 375, nos. 465 and 467). The first picture, in the Gemäldegalerie, Dreden, she dates on stylistic grounds to 1620-25 (in spite of the date '1609' inscribed on a tombstone). The other, in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, is signed by both artists and similarly dated by Härting. The present picture could therefore have been painted at around the same time by the two artists, although Härting dates the Galerie Bailly interior to 1616-7. That hypothesis is supported by Jeremy Howarth, who has inspected the picture in the original and confirmed the attribution for the architecture, and the picture of the church interior, to Steenwyck. He plans to publish the picture in his forthcoming book, Hendrick van Steenwyck - Master of Perspective, due for publication towards the end of this year.
The picture was purchased by Beriah Botfield in 1841 from the Kleinenbergh sale in Leiden and constitutes one of his earliest recorded purchases.