In the vast literature of 17th-century painting, Theodor Rombouts (1597-1637)
is little more than a footnote, appended to such names as Caravaggio, Manfredi,
Rubens, and van Dyck. Yet like many a footnote, a Rombouts painting is often
more interesting, entertaining, and worthy in its own right than the text
it elucidates. Thus, the spectator on gallery rounds who happens upon a Rombouts
work can do worse than spend a few moments before it. Monumental, the paintings
demand that the spectator stand back if he is to have a proper perspective
and maximum enjoyment. Thoroughly secular in content, they do not bother the
viewer with halos, wings, or visions of a life beyond as much as they immerse
him in the pleasures and excitements of the here and now, none more exquisite
perhaps than the fateful uncertainties encapsulated in a roll of the dice.
Then, as now, much of gaming was based on skill: the ability to feign, to
deceive, to create illusion, in a word, to gammon. But skill was only part
of the game. Whether dice game or life game, the outcome also depended largely
on chance, the "hazard of the die." And, if games of chance were in fact often
metaphors for the game of life, then Rombouts was especially good at creating
these oil-and-canvas illusions.
Southgate MT. The Backgammon Players. JAMA. 1998;280(19):1644. doi:10.1001/jama.280.19.1644
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