The five human senses – taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch – belong to the most varied and most appealing subjects of European painting. Whereas in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the senses had rather negative connotations, being considered deceitful or as a promotion of sin, their perception changed with the increasing scientification of thought in the 17th century. The senses were initially represented symbolically or allegorically. The Dutch painting of the Golden Age gradually replaced the initially symbolical or allegorical representation of the senses with narrative genre scenes. The exhibition presents painting and printed graphics of the 17th to 19th centuries in the form of thematic groups of works. Many international loans from around 20 European museums have been supplemented with the collections of Villa Vauban.
A first group of works concentrates on the diversity of allegorical representations of the five senses in Flemish and Dutch 17th-century painting. Large-format allegories and small cabinet paintings with picture cycles by Old Masters like Cornelis de Vos, Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Miense Molenaer, Barent Fabritius, Ambrosius Francken the Younger and Herman van Aldewereld are shown.
The second group of works is dedicated to French still-life painting, blossoming since the 1620s/30s, and its approach to the theme of the five senses. Painters like Jacques Linard and Louise Moillon resided in Paris and were associated with a group of Protestant artists that had specialised in this genre. The section also includes a painting of the important Strasbourg still-life master Sebastian Stoskopff (1597-1657).
A third group of works approaches the five senses by way of the biblical story of the prodigal son, which is often illustrated with crowded inn scenes showing music, drinking and smoking. Although the representations were still meant to be understood as warnings, the joy of the senses prevails for the viewer. Painters like Simon de Vos and David Teniers the Younger dedicated themselves to this pictorial theme, which had been popular in the Netherlands since the end of the 16th century.
How the allegorical is gradually displaced by a narrative representation of the senses is finally shown by the fourth and largest group, consisting of paintings of the 17th to 19th centuries. Works by Philip van Dijk, Luca Giordano, Gerard de Lairesse, Jacob Duck or Michiel Sweerts show genre scenes, people playing music, lovers or scenes of gallantry with concealed allusions to the individual senses.
The show is supplemented by series of printed graphics. Engravers like Pieter Jansz. Quast or Jacob Gole developed discreetly moralising scenes about the five senses, which they seasoned with mockery and spicy ambiguities.
In front of Villa Vauban, the “Garden of the Senses” (created by the municipal Service des Parcs) invites guests to see, taste, smell, feel and hear. In the museum, nine “experience stations” (by Schloß Freudenberg, Wiesbaden) invite visitors from ages 3 to 103 to develop their senses and thinking.