Cornelis Gijsbrechts - Fictitious painting backside

by Thyra Guenther-Lübbers


Researchers know little about the artist Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts. Not even his life data (*before 1657 †after 1675) can be determined with certainty, let alone his training as an artist. There are isolated indications on the basis of correspondence or specially made by him dating on his paintings. The latter, however, are based on dates found on various letters in Gijsbrecht's still lifes and therefore cannot serve as a concrete source. It is certain, however, that Gijsbrecht was court painter to the Danish king Frederik III and his successor Christian V in Stockholm in the period 1668-1672. The presumed date of origin of this trompe-l'œil work also falls into this period. The picture was purchased by the Royal Chamber of Art, also called the Cabinet of Curiosities, in the year it was created, or it was most likely commissioned specifically for this purpose. Within the Royal Kunstkammer, there were so-called sub-chambers. The work to be presented was exhibited in the Perspective Chamber. The Royal Chamber of Art later became part of today's Statens Museum für Kunst Copenhagen (SMK).

The placement of the work in the perspective chamber already points to the clue of the only picture in the world with two backs. The work was/is never allowed to be hung or framed in order to "function". In the best case it is, as now in the Statens Museum, leaning on the floor against a wall. Starting from this exhibition position, the picture automatically enters into a silent dialogue with the viewer. The viewer develops the urge to turn the picture over and to explore what is hidden on the front of the work. Thus, in addition to curiosity, a certain expectation arises in the viewer. The integration of an inventory number is a clever move by Gijsbrecht to convince the viewer that the painting must have a front, since it is obviously already part of the Royal Collection. If the viewer now steps closer to the painting, the natural process of a trompe-l'œil work begins to take hold. The deception lives on the disappointment. The viewer will thus notice on closer inspection that the stretcher frame, canvas, nails and inventory number are merely painted on. Or he will notice the deception in the last instance when turning the canvas around.


Trompe-l'œil, which has its origins in antiquity, was rediscovered in the 17th century and experienced an absolute revival, especially through Dutch artists. Of course, works of this kind must not be missing in the collection of the modern King Christan V of Denmark. In this way, the king expresses his superiority by signaling that he will not be deceived or that he has long since seen through the deception. In this case, art once again becomes the representative of worldly power.


Cornelis Gijsbrechts - Fictitious painting backside

Oil on canvas, 1670/72, 66.4 x 87 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

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