Gillis van Tilborch

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Elegant Company

Gillis van Tilborch or Gillis van Tilborgh[1] (c. 1625–c. 1678) was a Flemish painter who worked in various genres including portraits, 'low-life' and elegant genre paintings and paintings of picture galleries. He became the keeper of the picture collection of the governor of the Habsburg Netherlands and travelled in England where he painted group portraits.[2][3]


Gillis van Tilborch was likely born in Brussels. He is believed to have studied first under his father Gillis van Tilborch the Elder and then with David Teniers the Younger.[4] He became a master in the Brussels Guild of Saint Luke in 1654. He was the dean of the Guild in 1663.

He was appointed in 1666 as the keeper of the painting collection ot the court and castle of Tervuren, the residence of the governor of the Habsburg Netherlands.[5] His presumed master David Teniers the Younger had previously held the same position for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the art loving governor of the Habsburg Netherlands.[6]

Van Tilborch operated a workshop in Brussels but none of his pupils or assistants have been identified. At around 1670 he travelled to England as is documented by a painting depicting Tichborne House and the Tichborne family giving alms (the so-called Tichborne Dole).[2]

The date and place of his death are not known but it was likely c. 1678 in Brussels.[5]



His works are dated between 1650 and 1671 and mostly signed with the monogram 'TB'.[2] The range of his subject matter is as diverse as that of his presumed master David Teniers the Younger and encompasses portraits, group portraits, tavern scenes, village feasts, merry companies, picture galleries and guardroom scenes.

He was known for his harmonious palette, exact drawing and compositional skills.[5]

Genre scenes[edit]

The Drinker

His tavern scenes are similar to those of other followers of Adriaen Brouwer such as David Ryckaert III and Joos van Craesbeeck.[7] A good example is The Drinker (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen).

His village scenes are in the tradition of David Teniers the Younger who had developed the genre by moving away from the ignoble peasant type of Adriaen Brouwer towards a more idyllic and nobler view of peasants and village life.[8]

Picture galleries[edit]

He also painted 'gallery paintings' or 'picture galleries', a subject matter that had developed in Flanders in the 17th century. Gallery paintings depict large rooms in which many paintings and other precious items are displayed in elegant surroundings. The earliest works in this genre depicted art objects together with other items such as scientific instruments or peculiar natural specimens. Some gallery paintings include portraits of the owners or collectors of the art objects or artists at work. The paintings are heavy with symbolism and allegory and are a reflection of the intellectual preoccupations of the age, including the cultivation of personal virtue and the importance of connoisseurship.

A Picture Gallery

Tilborch’s master Teniers played an important role in the development of the genre and his mid 17th century gallery paintings of the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm are among the most famous examples of the genre.[9][10] Other painters practicing the genre around the time of van Tilborch include Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg, Hieronymus Janssens, Gonzales Coques, Jacob de Formentrou and Balthasar van den Bossche. An example of van Tilborch’s gallery paintings is A Picture Gallery (c. 1660–70, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence). It depits a group of five elegantly dressed gentlemen in the act of appreciating several sculptures some of which they are holding. The walls of the room is covered with paintings in different genres. Some paintings, which the elegant figures already have or are about to evaluate, are resting on the floor or on a chair. At least one of the persons depicted is an artist as he is holding a brush and palette.[11] Gillis van Tilborgh’s gallery paintings continue the trend initiated by Teniers to remove non-art objects from the gallery. He depicts his figures in the gallery paintings to emphasise that they form part of an elite who possess privileged knowledge of art. In some of his gallery paintings he included artists at work. The genre of gallery paintings had by then become a medium to accentuate the notion that the powers of discernment associated with connoisseurship are socially superior to or more desirable than other forms of knowing.[9] His series documenting paintings held at Tervuren castle are other examples of his contributions to the genre.


His portraits of bourgeois sitters are similar to those of Gonzales Coques, who was referred to in his time as the ‘little van Dyck’.[5] Like many of his contemporaries such as Teniers and Coques, he painted allegories, an example of which is the series depicting the Five Senses (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium).[12][13]

Guardroom scenes[edit]

Guardroom, Hermitage

He painted at least two 'guardroom scenes', a type of genre scene that had become popular in the mid-17th century, particularly in the Dutch Republic. In Flanders there were also a few practitioners of the genre including David Teniers the Younger, Abraham Teniers, Anton Goubau, Cornelis Mahu and Jan Baptist Tijssens the Younger. A guard room scene typically depicts an interior scene with officers and soldiers engaged in merrymaking. Guardroom scenes often included mercenaries and prostitutes dividing booty, harassing captives or indulging in other forms of reprehensible activities.[14]

Tilborch painted a Guardroom scene (sold by Jean Moust Old Master Paintings), which depicts an officer reading a letter for four men, amidst a pile of weapons and a war standard. The armour depicted in the picture was already out of date at the time it was painted since metal armours, breast plates and helmets fell out of use from the 1620s.[15] It is possible that in line with the moralizing intent of the genre, the armour is a reference to the vanitas motif of the transience of power and fame.[16]

The Hermitage collection includes a Guardroom scene which is ascribed to Tilborch. This scene is set in a very large guardroom with numerous people engaging in various activities. In the middle of the guardroom stand two gentlemen in what appears to be oriental dress.[17]


As was the custom at the time, van Tilborch often collaborated with other artists. He would typically take care of the staffage while the collaborating artist painted the landscape. An example is the Family Portrait said to be of the Van der Witte Family painted together with landscape painter Jan Siberechts (Sotheby's, 5 July 2012, London, lot 134). The artists placed their subjects on an unlikely steep rise overlooking their large estate.[18] Another collaboration was with the landscape painter Guilliam van Schoor with whom he made a View of Tervuren castle (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium). It includes a few workers and about a dozen aristocratic observers engaging in contemplative and leisurely activities. In the foreground are two people playing music. An exotic bird perched on the neck of the guitar provides through its intense colours a visual substitute for the music that cannot be heard.[19]


Village Banquet
  1. ^ Name variants: Gillis van Tilborch the Younger, J. van Rijck, J. van Rijk, T. van Ruch, J. van Ryck, J. van Ryk, Aegidius van Tilborgh, Egidius van Tilborgh, Johannes van Tilborgh, Gillis van Tilburg, Gillis van Tilburg
  2. ^ a b c L. J. Wassink. Tilborgh, Gillis van. Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web 16 December 2014
  3. ^ Gillis van Tilborgh at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (Dutch)
  4. ^ Gillis van Tilborgh II (?Brussels c. 1625-c. 1678) Elegant figures gathering around a table in a courtyard at Christie’s
  5. ^ a b c d Pierre Bautier, Gilles van Tilborch in: Biographie Nationale, Volume 25, 255-259 (French)
  6. ^ Hans Vlieghe. David Teniers II, Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 14 December 2014
  7. ^ Peter C. Sutton, Dutch & Flemish Paintings: The Collection of Willem Baron Van Dedem, frances lincoln ltd, 2002, p. 47
  8. ^ Hans Vlieghe. "Teniers." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 16 Dec. 2014
  9. ^ a b Marr, Alexander (2010) 'The Flemish 'Pictures of Collections' Genre: An Overview', Intellectual HistoryReview, 20: 1, 5 — 25
  10. ^ Scott J. Mangieri, Curiosity and Identity in Cornelius Gijsbrechts' Trompe L'oeil Studio Walls, ProQuest, 2008, p. 30-31
  11. ^ Gillis van Tilborgh, A Picture Gallery, at the Spencer Museum of Art
  12. ^ Gillis van Tilborgh, Soldiers resting and playing cards outside a house at Dorotheum
  13. ^ The Five Senses at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
  14. ^ Review of Jochai Rosen, Soldiers at Leisure, The Guardroom Scene in Dutch Genre Painting of the Golden Age at historians of Netherlandish art
  15. ^ Gillis II van Tilborgh Guardroom scene at Jean Moust
  16. ^ Guardroom painting at the Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg
  17. ^ Tilborch, Gillis van, Guardroom at the Hermitage
  18. ^ Family Portrait said to be of the Van der Witte Family at Sotheby’s
  19. ^ Richard Leppert, The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation, and the History of the Body, University of California Press, 1 Nov 1999, p. 29-31

Further reading[edit]