by Thyra Guenther-Lübbers
The background of the work is formed by a slightly cloudy, but still light blue sky, as well as a hilly Italian landscape, in which various ruins can also be made out. The foreground is strikingly divided into two unequal halves. The scene on the right, from the viewer's point of view, is dominated by a ruined temple. In front of and next to it, ancient vases, torsos, friezes, medallions, and a fountain can be discovered there in the picture. The two sculptures depicted reproduce Hercules Farnese and Venus Medici. The relief depicted shows the equestrian battle from the eastern Attic relief of the Arch of Constantine. In front of the described objects there are 13 well dressed, exclusively male, figures. They are depicted standing, sitting or kneeling and studying the ruins. Only one man stands out because of his completely black clothing as well as his upright posture, probably it is the painter who portrayed himself here. This group of artists or art students is joined on the left side of the painting by a small herd of goats and sheep, guarded by two shepherds and a dog. In the left half of the painting, the third and final grouping of this painting can be seen. The shepherd boys with their animals, however, do not form a bridge between the circles of people due to their, rather vertical, orientation. Rather, they separate them from each other. The left third of the picture, much more space was not granted by the painter to the group to be described in the following, is clearly darker than the rest of the painting. Also, the outlines of the buildings and figures are blurred here. This group shows again exclusively young men who, indulging in wine, have joined together here for a drinking bout. The exuberant mood is also conveyed to the viewer by various instruments, such as a lute or a bagpipe. Two young, very thin trees next to the group stand out conspicuously and give the impression of being almost withered and carrying very little foliage. They contrast with the trees on the opposite side of the plant, which have large green crowns. Directly behind the revelry rises a shabby-looking building complex, to the right of which Goubau placed an ensemble of an obelisk crowned by a narrow cross and a fountain at which another man is watering a goat and on which the artist signed the painting.
If one wants to perceive the various scenes with their details exactly, the viewer must definitely linger longer in front of this picture to perceive everything. In any case, the very likely intentionally created disharmony of the work remains hidden from him. It is exactly this disharmony that allows different interpretations. Either one and the same group of artists of the "Bentveughel" is shown here in two different situations. Or the division of this very group is thematized, which was divided into the industrious and the idle. Although it is not clear whether Anton Goubau was a member of the Schildersbent, the fact that he presents himself in the best light here, perhaps even as a faculty member, corroborates the assumption of a self-portrait.
1] The "Bentveughel" was an association, mainly of Dutch artists/painters between 1620 and 1720, in Italy respectively mainly Rome. As compatriots, the artists helped each other in the Italian foreign countries and helped each other for example to apartments and contacts. Due to the study of antiquities, a study trip, which was often extended to a stay of several years, belonged in the Netherlands to the good tone of the education of a painter of that time. The group of artists, also known as Schildersbent, was, however, known and in some places not well liked in Italy, mainly because of their debauched celebrations.
Anton Goubau - Study of art in Rome
Oil on canvas, 1662, 117 x 186 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp