There is evidence of a join in the support just above the cornice; it is possible that the topmost member is a later addition, as the tops of other gallery interiors set in rooms of similar format by Francken are placed just above the cornices (see, for instance, the painting offered by Christie's, Amsterdam, 8 November 1999, lot 126, and that in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, reproduced, among others, by Hrting, op. cit., 1989, pp. 84-85).
The paintings displayed, reading from the left and then from top to bottom, are: A village landscape with a stormy sky (or with a house ablaze) in the style perhaps of Kerstiaen de Keuninck; Saint Sebastian in the style perhaps of Otto van Veen; Saint John the Baptist preaching in the Wilderness in the style of Frans Francken II (cf. the Saint John Preaching at Vaduz, Hrting, op. cit., 1989, p. 257, no. 88); on the floor, propped against the wall, Lot and his Daughters in the style of Frans Francken II; Saint Jerome in the Wilderness in the style of David Teniers I; A man-o-war in a storm, in the style of Andries van Eertvelt; on the floor propped against the cupboard, Dana in the style of Hendrick van Balen; above the cupboard, The Queen of Sheba before King Solomon in the style of Frans Francken II; A village landscape in the style of Adriaen van Stalbemt; An Alpine landscape in the style of Joos de Momper II; The Resurrection in the style of a Flemish mannerist; A town ablaze at night in the style of Herri met de Bles; on the floor, propped against the wall, A wooded landscape in the style of Gillis van Coninxloo.
On the cornice, plaster casts (?) of classical-style sculptures, from the left: A River God and A Standing Figure (both perhaps by a later hand); A Seated Man; A Standing Man - Jupiter(?); A River Goddess(?); The Personification of the River Tiber; A River Goddess; A Standing Woman; A River God; A Standing Woman and A River God (the latter two perhaps by a later hand). On the table on the left is a Chinese, late Ming, blue and white jar filled with tulips, irises, roses and other flowers painted in the style of Jan Brueghel I. On the cupboard in the centre are conch shells, between them is an astronomical compendium; a similar cupboard in the Galleria Borghese picture (Hrting, op. cit., no. 454, fig. 12) is open and contains shells. At the table on the right are two seated men wearing fancy costumes and a standing youth; the seated man in the foreground measures great circle distances on a globe with a pair of dividers. On the table is a statuette of Venus and Cupid whose base is inscribed and dated: 'IBF 94'; these initials were perhaps intended to refer to Jean Boulogne, that is Giambologna (1529-1608); a carved fragment of a Hand, and a bust portrayal in classical style of A Young Man(?). Beyond the table is an opening onto a town square with a Flemish-style town house and market stalls. In the foreground are two parrots on a stand, a dog and two exotic songbirds on a stool.
The picture is signed by Frans Francken II, and his authorship of the greater part of the painting is not to be doubted. The initials D.I., with which Francken prefixed his signature, stand for Den Jonge, which appellation Francken used during his father's lifetime (1542-1616). Evidently, the flower still life, birds and dog are the work of a collaborator; Ertz, who had not seen the present lot, believed that Jan Brueghel I was probably that collaborator, which view, Hrting, op. cit., under no. 455, has treated with some scepticism but which she now inclines at least in part to accept (see below). In two cases at least, the manner of execution of the paintings displayed are close to the artists in whose styles they are executed: the Saint Jerome and Dana; and the possibility arises that they are actually the work of David Teniers I and Hendrick van Balen. No composition by Van Balen is recorded similar to the Dana; a Saint Jerome in a river landscape by David Teniers I was offered at Sotheby's, New York, 16 May 1996, lot 25, but this could not be described as the prototype of the painting in the present work. Thus if they are in fact by the artists in whose styles they are executed, it is possible that they were specially devised for introduction as originals into the present work. The same is the case for The Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, the Lot and his Daughters and perhaps the Saint John preaching in the Wilderness; these may well have been specially executed as originals by Francken for the present work. The other paintings depicted are presumably pastiches by Francken.
Several elements recur in other 'gallery interiors' by Francken: a similar Seascape and Alpine landscape appear in the picture recorded with Mortimer Brandt, New York, 1951 (Hrting, op. cit., no. 459); similar vases of flowers occur, for instance, in the painting in Antwerp (Hrting, op. cit., no. 461, fig. 79); the monkey and the geographer measuring occur in the painting recorded as in the Lande Long collection (Hrting, op. cit., no. 456, fig. 76), while the parrots are found, for instance, in the Interior of the Rockox House (Hrting, op. cit., no. 462, pl. 19). Hrting, op. cit., 1993, pp. 121-122, speculates on the symbolism attaching to the parrots and the dog; she concludes that they refer to eloquence and memory respectively.
Van der Schueren has analysed the sculpture that appears in Francken's gallery interiors. The renderings of Venus and Cupid she believed were inspired by Raphael, as known through the engraving by Raimondi (p. 79 and fig. 80, Illustrated Bartsch, XXVI, p. 311); she was unaware of the initials on the plinth of the present picture, but the group is not a known, extant composition by Giambologna. She lists however other derivations from the sculptor. The fragment of the Hand recurs in the gallery interior at Mnich, (Hrting, op. cit., no. 450), while the Personification of the River Tiber, occurs in a similar position in the picture offered at Christie's Amsterdam, and in the Gallery Interior in the Galleria Borghese, see above.
Filipczak describes the present picture as the earliest extant, dated gallery interior, a genre which, she states, Francken probably invented and of which twenty-one examples are known. She describes the connoisseurs who populate his gallery interiors, frequently, in fancy, Burgundian-style costume, as Konstlieflebbers; they are engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in imaginary encylopaedic collections, whose display of artefacts was perhaps inspired by Philostratus' Imagini.
Dr. Ursula Hrting has examined the present lot, and confirms its importance among Francken's 'gallery interiors'. While she is not convinced that David Teniers I is responsible for the Saint Jerome depicted on the far wall, she agrees that the painting of Dana, propped against the cupboard, and the vase of flowers could well be the work of Hendrick van Balen and Jan Brueghel I respectively. She thinks that the birds and the dog are by Francken. She proposes that the seated man of science on the right is a portrait not of Christoffel Plantin (1520-1589), as has been suggested by G. Vanpaemael (see Hrting, op. cit., 1993, p. 103, note 23), but of his successor at the Plantin press, Balthasar Moretus I (1574-1641). The dividers he holds could be a reference to the sign of the press 'the golden compass', and the market to the Vrdagmarkt in Antwerp, in which the Plantin press was situated.