Musical Entertainment at the Clavichord
Schönfeld, Johann Heinrich (1609-1684) | Painter
This depiction of a gallery interior is modelled on Dutch precedents. Schönfeld, however, adds six musicians performing in front of empty chairs: are they just playing for their own enjoyment or is this a day-time rehearsal? Or is the focus more on the paintings, some of which are the artist’s own creations? The motto above the right door “Artis oblectamento” (Delight in the Arts) idealises painting as the highest form of art, but aristocratic society also took pleasure in music.
Painted pictures can show us the world as it is – yet they can also depict the world as it isn’t, as it can’t be or perhaps never could have been. A good painting fires our imaginations and might even, in some cases, touch the depths of our unconscious.
Certainly, Johann Heinrich Schönfeld had his fun with the many diverse possibilities this composition offered him. This ‘musical entertainment’ is taking place in a cultivated setting. As if this were a genre painting, the high-ceilinged hall with its rich and magnificent decorations even suggests a ducal or royal residence. But that’s far from the whole story – after all, in comparison to the architectural setting, the musicians are just tiny figures. They even look small when compared to the upholstered chairs along the wall! And even though their faces are effectively lit by bright sunlight, their features are almost indistinguishable. The group are playing music – but without an audience. In fact, the art works on display seem more important – at least, they certainly take up most space. Some of the paintings hung in rows on the walls – massive history paintings, hunting scenes and landscapes – have been identified as the property of Augsburg’s Mayor Jenisch. Jenisch also owned the display cabinet at the end wall as well as the bird cage complete with parrot. But we also know Jenisch did not live in a palace in Augsburg. So this is not a portrait of his home – and it is also not a genre painting, as the people in the scene do not tell a story. Perhaps we could call it a painting with a particular message, a work where Schönfeld celebrates the arts as a display of wealth and power. Yet at the same time, he presents a competition between the artistic genres, posing the question of whether painting, sculpture or architecture is the leading art form – and whether they even excel nature in the shape of the parrot. Or perhaps, ultimately, the greatest form of art is music – the art of the moment?
- Material & Technique
- Oil on canvas
- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
- c. 1670
- Inventory number
- Gal.-Nr. 1991