A Guessing Game about the Five Senses
Entry 35 January 20, 2016
Anthonie Palamedesz (1601-1673) has two painting in the Louvre: All the Paintings, but neither of them, at least as presented in the very small reproduction size most of the paintings in the book come in (there are, after all, reproductions of 3092 paintings in the book, and even at the very small size the book weighs eight pounds), is particularly impressive. Still, the first of them, which is entitled Series of the Five Senses: Taste attracted me because it was only one painting out of a series, presumably five so that all the senses could be depicted, and I was puzzled as to why the image of a woman sitting at a table with no food or drink in front of her should be an image of taste.
A visit to the Louvre website in search of a larger reproduction revealed that the woman was supporting a baby nursing at her left breast; hence, taste. The website also revealed that the Louvre actually has all five of the paintings from the series, and there are reproductions of all of them available. Although only one is displayed in the Atlas Database entry on the series, there are links to the other four in the entry. Moreover, the gallery photographs for Sully, 2nd floor, Donation of the Princesse Louis de Croy, neé Eugénie de l’Espine (Room B), suggest all five of the series paintings are hanging in a group. I’m basing this on the frames and the number of grouped paintings rather than on the paintings themselves, which are not visible due to the angle from which the photograph was taken.
I’m writing about them because I was curious about how to match the images, once I’d found them, to the five senses. As far as I can determine, the Louvre doesn’t supply the information. That the one reproduced represents taste appears only in my book, not on the Louvre website.
By a process of elimination I hypothesized that the man holding the stringed instrument must be hearing, and the smoker would probably be smell, but I was stumped by the other two: which one is sight and which is touch?
The girl could be either touch or sight, I thought. After all, she’s looking at her reflection in a mirror, which is sight, but then her fingers are on her forehead, which would be touch. But the man holding the chicken didn’t suggest any particular match to either sight or touch. We don’t say: “Look, he’s holding a chicken.” No one says, “That chicken is a sight for sore eyes.” For that matter, I wasn’t sure that I’d gotten smell and touch right: Why wasn’t the woman with the nursing infant touch rather than taste? Maybe the smoker represented the taste of tobacco in the mouth. Maybe the guitarist should be counted as touch, rather than hearing.
I’ve long since moved on in the project of viewing all the paintings in the book without being able to satisfy myself entirely as to who is who among these images of sense experience. But I did gather some clues; I’m a little embarrassed, though, especially as a doubter of the reliability of Internet sources, to admit that the best I could do was to examine Internet auction sites on which paintings from the group were mentioned. There I found some instances of the individual paintings being labeled, including at least one clear application of the word “touch” to the man holding the chicken. The explanation? He’s blind, and he’s identifying the chicken by touch. Did you see that coming?