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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Christoffel Pierson/Niche with Falconry Gear/probably 1660s,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed February 06, 2023).

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Apr 24, 2014 Version

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Born and trained in The Hague, Christoffel Pierson was one of the first artists to specialize in illusory images of hunting gear. Hunting was a popular activity for Dutch nobility throughout the seventeenth century. The Hague, where the Princes of Orange had their courtly residence and where the States General convened, became the center of a growing culture of hunting that spawned this new genre of painting around mid-century. Pierson, who painted a number of trompe l'oeil hunting pieces with falconry elements, emphasized three-dimensional effects with illusionistically painted frames and niches.

In Niche with Falconry Gear, Pierson has arranged various pieces of hunting equipment in and around a wooden-framed niche set into a white stucco wall. In the arched niche he has placed a hunting horn, a net, a bow and arrow, and a small birdcage surmounted by a falcon's hood with a red plume. Two different types of whistles hang from the cage. A powder bag and powder horn are suspended to the left of the niche, and a shoulder bag hangs to the right. His strong contrasts of light and shade enliven the image and strengthen the sense that bright daylight floods the scene.


In this striking painting, Christoffel Pierson has created the vivid illusion of hunting equipment placed in and around an arched, light-filled niche set into a white stucco wall. The red-plumed falcon’s hood resting atop the wooden birdcage is the visual focus of the painting. Two different types of whistles hang from the birdcage, while other types of hunting equipment, including a hunting horn, a net, and a bow and arrow, lie near it. Flanking the niche are trompe l’oeil nails from which hang, on the left, a powder bag and powder horn, and, on the right, a shoulder bag for carrying game.

The equipment shown here was appropriate for a variety of types of hunting, including riflery, archery, trapping with nets and decoy, and falconry. Falcons were used mainly to catch small birds living near rivers and swamps. Round leather hoods or bonnets were placed over the falcons’ heads, covering their eyes, to keep the birds calm during transport to and from the hunt. As in this painting, falconry hoods were often decorated with colored leather, gold braids, or plumes. Small birds could also be caught using snap nets. After the hunter arranged his nets on the ground he would attract game birds with small decoy whistles or with live song birds in wooden cages.[1]

Hunting, and falconry in particular, was a popular pastime reserved for Dutch aristocrats, notably those at the Dutch court in The Hague.[2] Shortly after mid-century, this interest encouraged the development of painted game pieces and depictions of hunting implements. Two artists from The Hague who specialized in such images were the brothers Anthonie (1630/1631–1671/1673) and Johannes (1633–1688) Leemans, both of whom painted large-scale illusionistic depictions of hunting equipment displayed symmetrically on a white stucco wall, an arrangement that probably reflected actual practice.[3] Pierson, who was trained as a portraitist and history painter in The Hague, is generally described as having been inspired by the Leemans brothers to begin painting comparable trompe l’oeil images. Arnold Houbraken wrote that Pierson followed “Leemans” in depicting “hunting implements, bird cages, and shooting weapons” because of the high esteem and good prices artists received for such works.[4] The Leemans, however, probably did not begin to paint trompe l’oeil images of hunting implements before the late 1650s, by which time Pierson had left The Hague and was living in Gouda. Houbraken may have had a different Leemans in mind when he referred to Pierson’s source of inspiration, possibly Leendert Leman, who is reported to have painted illusionistic hunting scenes in Gouda.[5]

Houbraken was enthusiastic about Pierson’s ability to trick the eye in his trompe l’oeil paintings of hunting implements. He remarked that no one had ever been able to match the naturalism of Pierson’s works, in which every object appears to hang on the wall so convincingly that most people are fooled by the deception.[6] In Niche with Falconry Gear, Pierson has effectively exploited the niche motif to enhance his trompe l’oeil effects: objects seem to exist both behind and in front of the picture plane, and thereby enter into the viewer’s space.[7] The illusionism benefits further from the artist’s ability to convey the varied textures of the materials from which the hunting implements were made, whether horn, wood, metal, or leather, and from his sensitivity to light, whereby subtle shadows are cast onto the stucco wall and concave surface of the arched niche. It is easy to imagine how a viewer might be momentarily deceived when encountering this painting for the first time, and the delight one would feel when that deception was revealed.

Fewer than ten illusionistic hunting pieces by Pierson are known, and none of these are dated, so the chronology of his still lifes cannot be established with any certainty.[8] Many of the same hunting implements reappear in these works so it is probable that Pierson painted most of them for the open market rather than for a specific patron. Niche with Falconry Gear, however, differs in its focus on a niche, and in this instance Pierson might have conceived his painting for a specific location in the home of a Dutch aristocrat. The success of its illusionism is contingent on the painting being seen from the proper vantage point to make its perspective work and on having a natural light source on the left so that the shadows have a basis in reality.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower right: Chr.Pierson.f



Capitain Page.[1] Temple Hargrove, Sr.; his estate; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 3 October 2001, no. 61); (Berenberg Fine Art, Lugano); purchased 12 March 2003 through (Rob Smeets, Milan) by NGA.

Exhibition History
Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002-2003, no. 62, repro.
The Deluded Eye. Five Centuries of Deception, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2008-2009, no. 33, repro.
Visual Deception, II: into the Future, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo; Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe; Nagoya City Art Museum, 2014-2015.
Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. It has been lined and the tacking margins are no longer extant. Cusping indicates that the painting has not been cropped, but the current stretcher is slightly larger than the painting’s original dimensions and the edges have been filled and inpainted to incorporate them into the picture, expanding the painting slightly. A dark brown underlayer is visible in the craquelure. It is unclear if this is the ground layer or an underpainting. The paint layer is applied with smoothly blended, tight brushstrokes and multiple layers of glazing. The X-radiographs and examination with infrared reflectography at 1.5 to 1.7 microns[1] revealed that the large horn on the left was originally reversed, so that the wide side of the horn was closest to the edge of the painting.

The painting is in fairly good condition, though the X-radiographs reveal a complex tear at the top of the arch, just to the right of center, and an irregular, vertical damage on the left side, extending through the horn. The paint is slightly cupped along the moderate craquelure pattern, and many small losses have occurred in the intersections of the cracks. Inpainting exists around the perimeter of the painting, where it masks abrasion, as well as in a series of small damages in the bottom right corner. The painting has been partially cleaned in the past, with remnants of an earlier varnish remaining in the netting and the shadowed areas around it. The varnish is only very slightly yellow, and it remains clear and evenly glossy. The painting has not been treated since acquisition.


[1] Infrared reflectography was performed using a FLIR Indigo / Alpha VisGaAs camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.


Ebert-Schifferer, Sybille. Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l'Oeil painting. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2002:250, no. 62, 380, repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Christoffel Pierson: Niche with Falconry Gear." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 30 (Fall 2003): 18, color repro.
Sidén, Karin. Lura Ögat: Fem sekelrs bländverk. Stockholm, 2008: 125, repro., 201, no. 33.
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Related Terms
trompe l'oeil
nobility and patriciate
the rich
art criticism
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