Northern Baroque Art: The Collector’s Cabinet

Written by Stanton Thomas, Ph.D., Curator of European & Decorative Art

Among the new exhibition spaces in the Brooks is a gallery dedicated to Dutch and Flemish art of the 1600s. This period was the golden age of artistic achievement in the Netherlands—with  Dutch and Flemish painters gaining international recognition for their spectacular landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and genre paintings.

The Brooks Museum’s paintings have been installed to evoke a "collector's cabinet." Although today we tend to associate the word cabinet with box-like doored units for storage, the term originally referred to small, private rooms used for displaying works of art, books, and curiosities. Typically these spaces would be thickly hung with fine paintings, allowing their owners—and perhaps a few select guests—a chance to contemplate the quality and beauty of the works. The paintings are complemented by rare pieces of English and American furniture inspired by Dutch taste of the same period. Such cabinets of precious paintings and furniture were very popular with Netherlandish collectors during the 1600s. 

Most of the paintings in the new gallery were owned by the late Thomas Morgan Roberts (1937-2012). Born and raised in Memphis, Roberts was an inveterate collector who loved antique furniture, fine sterling, vintage wines, first edition books, Audubon prints, rare shot guns, early musical instruments, Japanese porcelain, and Orthodox icons, as well as superb Dutch paintings. Like a true gentleman and connoisseur of the 1600s, he selected these pictures and other objects to ornament and enrich his home. Then, in an extraordinarily generous gesture, he left these paintings to the Brooks in memory of his parents.

Among the highlights of the Roberts gift is an austererly beautiful painting of the interior of the Oude Kerk in Delft, and a wonderfully evocative picture of men playing cards in a tavern. The Dutch of the 1600s—and doubtlessly Roberts himself— would have appreciated the works not only as fine art objects, but respectively as gentle reminders of the transient nature of human existence and the fleeting pleasures of drinking and gaming.

Come visit the museum and see all the new and renovated gallery spaces. More galleries and the new museum cafe will open soon.


Job Adriaensz. Berckheyde, Dutch, 1630 – 1693, A Tavern Interior with Men Playing Cards, 1663, Oil on oak panel, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; Gift of Thomas Morgan Roberts in memory of his parents Emily Allen Roberts and James Thomas Roberts 2012.26.11

Posted by Karen Davis at 12:03 PM
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