The Sense of Smell (1618) by Jan Brueghel the Elder

The Sense of Smell - Jan Brueghel the Elder - 1618

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Artwork Information

TitleThe Sense of Smell
ArtistJan Brueghel the Elder
Art MovementBaroque

About The Sense of Smell

“The Sense of Smell” is an allegorical painting created by Jan Brueghel the Elder in 1618. This artwork, rendered in oil on panel, is part of the Baroque art movement, a period characterized by its dramatic use of light, rich detail, and overall grandeur.

The artwork captures a dense and flourishing court garden, brimming with a variety of flowers and plants, which is indicative of the painting’s theme: the sense of smell. At the center, two figures—likely representing mythological or allegorical subjects—are engaging in the act of smelling flowers, emphasizing the theme. The lavish abundance of botanical details in this artwork not only illustrates Brueghel’s skillful rendering of nature but also his knowledge of it; different species are depicted with such precision that they can often be identified by the viewer.

Surrounding the central figures are copious blooming flowers in ornate pots, woven baskets, and dispersed across the landscape, each contributing to the sensation of a fragrant environment. The setting includes a backdrop of elegant Renaissance architecture, indicative of a noble house or palace garden, but the structures are partially obscured by the dense foliage, hinting at the intertwining of man-made and natural beauty.

In the foreground and scattered throughout the garden, various animals can be seen, some of which—like the peacock and deer—carry symbolic meanings related to the senses and aesthetics during the Baroque period. The lush depiction of flora and fauna, combined with the intricate detail, makes this piece an exemplary work demonstrating both the allegorical genre and the artistic richness typical of the Baroque era.

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