The show represented in the current painting by Richard Brakenburgh is known in Dutch as a ‘rarekiek’, or in English a Goggle box or Peep show box. It is a viewing box with
round holes, in which magnifying glasses are located. The chest has a separate trestle underneath and there is a spatial representation in the box, which is roughly structured as a diorama. Since the Middle Ages it allowed people at fairs, after paying a fee, to view for instance famous scenes in history and international celebrities.
In the seventeenth century a funfairman, himself also called rarekiek, would carry the viewing box on his back and traveled the entire country, from village to village and from city to city. The show itself only took a few minutes but was loudly explained by the Rarekiek, which made it quite a spectacle to observe and must have caused quite a commotion. Through the holes one could see figures and attributes set in motion by strings, placed in elaborate décors (which were pushed in at the back) with cityscapes, mountain landscapes, battles or other events.
Richard Brakenburgh is most known for his merry-makings and drunken assemblies although he also painted Italianate landscapes and portraits. His pictures are overall ingeniously composed, and well colored, with great understanding of chiaroscuro. According to the biographer Arnold Houbraken, the artist was a light-hearted poet from Haarlem. He was registered in Leeuwarden during the years 1670-1687 and was the pupil of Hendrik Mommers who painted clever genre scenes in the manner of Adriaen van Ostade. It is also suggested he was a pupil of Bernard Schendel: they were the same age and painted in similar styles. He was successful enough at his art that his Frisian widow was able to purchase an annuity after his death in Friesland. He was the teacher of Wigerus Vitringa, Abraham Pardanus, and Gillis de Winter and was a close follower of Jan Steen.
– Lord of Northwick, by 1864 (cat no. 199);
– Spencer Churchill, Lord of Northwick, by 1921 (Borenius no. 176);
– Lord Spencer-Churchill’s sale at Christie’s London, 29 October 1965, no. 35;
– Noortman Gallery, London-Hulsberg by 1982 (ill. in Weltkunst 1 April 1982, p. 86);
– sold to a private Dutch collection.
– John Rushout, Baron (1770-1859), ‘A Catalogue of the Pictures, Works of Art etc. at Northwick Park’, 1864, reprinted 1908 no.199;
– Tancred Borenius, ‘A Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Northwick Park’ 1921, no 176.