- A Mysterious Masterpiece: The World of the Linder Gallery
A Mysterious Masterpiece: The World of the Linder Gallery introduces the Linder Gallery painting to a broad audience through an in situ conversation of six specialists and generalists who discuss the work in the living room of the owner (Ron Cordover). Thus, it is an unusual book about an unusual painting that was virtually unknown until now. The decision to use a lively conversation instead of a dry, scholarly narrative approach (with all of its annotations, footnotes and a long bibliography) makes the volume accessible and adds a measure of appeal to the ideas as well, because the participants draw out each other's knowledge as they talk.
What is perhaps most exciting about the book is the subject matter itself. Although the walk through the details of the piece is rudimentary, this quick survey does expose how many facets of a unique moment in the history of ideas are contained within its parameters. As Gorman and Bradburne note in their introduction:
This is … a world looking Janus-like both forward to Boyle's "chymistry" and Newton's physics, and backward to Nostradamus' astrology and Sendivogius' alchemy. The 1620s was the world of Rubens, Brueghel, Van Dyck and Galileo, but it was also only recently the world of Shakespeare and Tycho Brahe. It was a world that stood at the threshold of the Thirty Years' War. It was a world alive with experiments and exploration, but also a world that remembered the Wars of Religion and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the Spanish Armada, and the assassination of Henry IV. This painting is a document that holds the clue to understanding the political, intellectual, artistic and scientific ferment of the first half of the seventeenth century(p. 12).
What I found particularly fascinating is the way this painting speaks of how science added a secular element to paintings that was particularly evident in Northern European work. The book proposes that the Linder Gallery was probably commissioned in the 1620s and offers c. 1622–1629 as the painting's date. Since Kepler's Rudolphine Tables, one of the objects depicted in the work, was published in 1627, I think it is accurate to say the composition itself shows how it is a part of the contemporary scientific conversation of its period. In addition, the painting is representative of a 17th-century genre that was created in Antwerp, that of the "cabinet painting" or "gallery interior." Typically, these objects were filled with allegorical wall paintings and elements, elegant interiors, people, objects and instruments. As a whole, the conglomerate of images spoke to social, political, artistic and scientific issues of the time. While images of the contemporary world constantly bombard us with competing ideas, in earlier times works such as gallery interiors would bring many competing ideas into focus.
In the case of the Linder Gallery, three people conceived the specific theme of the work. One was the unknown painter. One was a wealthy German merchant, Peter Linder, living in Milan in the early 1620s, who commissioned the Linder Gallery. In addition, Muzio Oddi, an Urbino mathematician and architect, played a key role in informing the selection of elements that comprise the pictorial commentary. The composition itself is centered around the intellectual understanding of the cosmos through measurement and mathematics, although there are many other threads evident, particularly in the allegorical works on the wall. Still, it is the cosmological specifics that are most striking because they separate this work from other gallery interiors of the 17th century. While the gallery interior genre itself frequently includes scientific instruments, maps, globes, etc., most of these paintings do not include explicit references to the actual cosmological debates of the era.
In the Linder Gallery, the central table is particularly alluring in how it accentuates the cosmological theme. Renderings of a large astrolabe by Gualterus Arsenius and the celestial globe, probably by Jodocus Hondius the Younger, are fascinating examples of the period...