Today I would like to show you another painting from York. Back in the past the “reproductions” of the paintings were created in the forms of the prints, which were usually inscribed with the names of both the engraver as well as the painter who completed the original picture. That is why we now tend to assume that the prints were after the paintings. Sometimes, however, it may have been the other way round.
This is another painting from the collection of City Art Gallery in York – it is not known, kept in the magazine, and I think it was actually never on a display. Every museum has pieces like this: usually their condition is to poor to exhibit them and there’s no money for the renovation. As they are not exhibited, no-one researches them, and as a result there is no support for acquiring any foundings for their restoration; it is a true vicious circle.
And that is what I found in the magazine: the painting entitled “The Gamblers”. It is not of a high artistic quality, and it’s condition is really tragic (the panels of the support are actually broken). We don’t even know how the painting joined the York collection and what was its history. The only clue is a chalk note (!) on the back – it reads “Loadman (41)’, which I think could mean that it was acquired in 1941 from M. Loadman, who apparently was an art dealer working in 1940’s in York at Stonegate street.
The painting shows three young man playing a backgammon – the board game which had ancient origins. They drink and smoke during the game. In the bottom part of the painting there is an inscription that reads: “Een Tuijsscher en Speelder is een vuijl catijf / hij drinckt en verspeelt sijn gelt en slaet sijn wijf”. It is actually a proverb which will lead us to the source of inspiration for that painting, which in this case is a print by Crispijn de Passe the Elder (1564-1637), kept in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.
The print is inscribed as being created after Dirk van Baburen (bottom left: Baburen pinxit) by Crispijn de Passe (bottom right: Crispin de pas fe: et ex). It contains the same image and the same proverb, which could be translated to “A dicer and gambler is a filthy caitiff. He drinks, gambles his money away, and beats his wife”. That is quite an accumulation of the vices! The latin inscription in the middle part of the engraving (Irarum Causas Fugito) says “Flee from the causes of Anger” and refers to one of the deadly sins: the wrath (lat. Ira), which apparently is a vice of the choleric temperament. The other latin inscription actually associates drinking and having choleric temperament with gambling (Ardet et in Choleram prona est feruentior aetas Cui leuis est Bacchus dammo sa vel alea cordi). The idea of the four temperaments has its roots in the ancient four humors theory, described by Hippocrates (460–370 BC) and further developed by Galen (AD 129 – c. 200). It assumes that a human body contains four fluids (called “humors”): blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm; and whatever dominates, results in a particular temperament. So the temperamental categories are cheerful “sanguine” (sanquis – blood), depressive “melancholic” (melas chole – black bile), slow “phlegmatic” (phlegma – phlegm) and finally passionate “choleric” (chole – yellow bile). Of course, there are more aspects of that theory: the temperaments were connected to the influences of the planets and mythological gods related to them, and additionally the domination of a particular fluid was supposed to cause the vulnerability to certain diseases. Basically it is quite a a mix-up of the medicine, the astrology and the literature. And also each temperament was related to a different element: sanguine to the Air, melancholic to the Earth, phlegmatic to the Water and finally choleric to the Fire. Interestingly, the temperament was supposed to be reflected in facial features – the typical four physiognomic types were depicted for example by Johann Kaspar Lavater (1775-1778):
Of course, the temperaments mainly comes out in one’s behaviour; there are some nice examples in late gothic art illustrating the different attitude in relationships of each of the temperaments. Apparently the phlegmatic one woos his beloved with some music, the sanguine one just gets the job done, the melancholic one does nothing and his wife has to work for both of them, and finally the choleric one beats his wife. The latter we already knew from the inscription on our painting.
To sum up: the painting kept in York was created after the print, which actually was based on the painting by Dirk van Baburen. That painting does not contain the inscription though and it’s composition is a bit different – it seems that the engraving’s composition was partly the invention of the engraver.
But was the painting by van Baburen a part of the set of four temperaments’ depictions? Or maybe the print was planned as one of four? If yes – were the other three ever completed? We don’t know the answers for those questions, but it seems likely that it actually was once a set of the four temperaments’ allegories. However, only the choleric one survived and was copied by an unknown author of the painting now in York. Maybe the other three were destroyed in a rage by someone whose temperament was actually choleric.