Circle of Ambrosius Benson (?, circa 1495; Bruges, 1550)
The Flirtatious scene

Oil on wood
53.5 x 81 cm

Inv. 2009.7.1

Acquisition 2009

Major works | Moderation versus Excess

A not so harmless meal…

In the foreground, men and women are drinking and eating to the music of the flute and mandolin. Some couples are getting together, but their behaviour remains decorous. Only in one instance are the boundaries being overstepped: the man on the left is trying to grab hold of the purse belonging to the young lady beside him. The background is a lot more suggestive, however. Couples are embracing under an arbour. The sign of this residence bears a swan, evidence that it is a brothel. Inside, a fool playing the mandolin, standing in the doorway, indicates the disorder unravelling around him.

This flirtatious scene, with the evocation of the brothel in the background, was a popular subject enthusiastically taken up in the 1530s to 1560s. Most of the time, it was associated with the parable of the Prodigal Son, the biblical story which authorised and justified the depiction of the loosest morals. Our painting is therefore distinctive in that it makes no reference to this story. It is to be placed in the kinds of works produced by Ambrosius Benson who painted this type of scene. Our artist, anonymous until this point but most likely from Bruges judging by his technique, makes a synthesis between the flirtatious compositions of Ambrosius Benson and more saucy scenes of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Our showpiece is therefore a creation in its own right which highlights the penchant in the 1550s and 1560s for such gallantries.