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A Roman Market, 1669

Willem Reuter

Flemish, 1642-1681
Oil on canvas
46-3/4 x 76 in. (118.7 x 193.0 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon
M.2010.1.207.P
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Willem Reuter’s panoramic market scene is animated with multiple tableaus: a fallen cache of fragile crockery, a beggar accepting alms, and a commedia dell’arte performance, among many. Each event is legible, however, thanks to the artist’s rigorous design: the vertically-oriented buildings provide stability to the composed figural groupings loosely arranged throughout the piazza from background to foreground. A strong raking light further clarifies the figures and their interactions.

Such carefully orchestrated compositions, in combination with colorful depictions of every-day life, were highly appreciated by aristocratic collectors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Brussels-born Reuter lived among the Dutch and Flemish artists in Rome who specialized in making these picturesque subjects. Their paintings earned them the title of Bambocciati, or “ugly dolls,” in reference to their ostensibly lowlife subjects.

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