Allegory of Sight

I noticed that I haven’t writen here about the paintings I adore for a very long time. Previously, I wrote about Le Sacré De Napoléon, Black Bashi Bazouk and Ask Me No More. I guess It’s time to share another favorite masterpiece.

This time I’ll be writing about a set of paintings created by a collaboration of two Flemish painters, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. In this set “The Five Senses“, there are five paintings and the first one is called “Allegory Of Sight“.

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Get ready to get lost in the details. In this painting, you see Cupid showing a painting of Christ to Venus. The painting of Christ is about one of his miracles, The Healing of the Blind Man, of which he heals the sight of a man. At the back of Venus, there is a portrait of a couple; Alberto and Isabel Clara Eugenia. You see a large painting on the right with a flower wreath around: Virgin and Child. There are many precious objects depicted within the painting. They mostly symbolize the sense of sight; Globe, compass, magnifying glass and more importantly a telescope. And now the mistery begins…

It’s important because here you see a convex-lensed telescope also known as The Keplerian Telescope. The weird thing is, this type of telescope hasn’t been built at that time. The historians have a hypothesis about it: A telescope with a similar look and capacity was designed by Hans Lippershey, a dutch lensmaker, before Johannes Kepler and might be given to the Archduke Albert VII of Habsburg

Jan Brueghel the Elder was the court painter of the Archduke, which means he was the responsible painter of the member of royal family. Also it’s known that Brueghel is one of the founder of “Kunstkammer” (room of art) painting. There is an article of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Technology Review about this inconsistency:


Although various writers in the 16th century describe glasses that can “recognize a man from several miles away,” the early exploitation of this idea is credited to the Dutch lens maker Hans Lippershey, who in 1608 applied for a patent for a device “for seeing things far away as if they were nearby.” However, his application was rejected, apparently because the idea was already well known.

Paolo Molaro and Pierluigi Selvelli (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Trieste. ) who have studied the telescopes depicted in five paintings by Brueghel, say that Lippershey is known to have given one of his earliest instruments to Archduke Albert VII of Habsburg, who had a keen interest in natural philosophy.

Kepler’s design wasn’t built until much later. The first reference to such an instrument appears in 1631. But here’s a mystery: Molaro and Selvelli speculate that a telescope in “The Allegory of Sight,” a collaboration between Brueghel and Pierre Paul Rubens dating from 1617, is actually Keplerian

(Read the full article here). 


Obviously, I’m  neither a painting expert nor an historian but I looove this kind of misterious details especially when it comes to paintings. I’ll write about the other four paintings in coming days. This amazing piece can be seen at Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.


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