The sense of smell is a beautiful oil on canvas realized by Flemish painters Jan Brueghel the Elder and Rubens in 1617-1618, now it is exposed at the Prado Museum in Madrid and it is at the center of a very original path. Until July 3, in fact, it has been set up a room in which not only you can observe the work but, thanks to some diffusers, visitors can smell the scents of ten of the more than 80 types of flowers and plants represented in the work.
The painting on display in the exhibition “La esencia de un cuadro. Una exposición olfativa” is part of a series of allegories dedicated to the five senses. The scene depicted is that of a lush idyllic garden, in which a Venus is presented with a bouquet of flowers, while all around, in a suspended atmosphere, buildings and trees cover a cloudy sky.
Flower painting is one of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s specialties, capable of representing different species through the balanced use of color, groups of flowers becoming isolated still lifes. The series of “The Senses” is one of the greatest aesthetic successes of the collaboration between the two artists, the curator of the section of Flemish paintings of the Prado Alejandro Vergara believes that the sensory experience can make better known the works of an elegant and refined painter but often in the background as Brueghel.
Among the essences diffused in the room are those of as many as seven flowers, including daffodils, orange blossom, jasmine and spikenard, but also that of fig, leather and tobacco, or other elements symbolic to the history of perfumes as far back as the 1600s. Among these less common perfumes there is Zibetto, an essence obtained from the glands of the animal of the same name (represented in the painting) often present in the perfumes of the sixteenth and seventeenth century as a fixative.