Today is the birthday of Frans Snyders or Snijders (1579-1657), a Flemish painter noted for his paintings of animals, hunting scenes, market scenes and still lifes. He was one of the earliest specialists in specifically animal paintings without humans in them, and he is credited with initiating a wide variety of new still-life and animal subjects in Antwerp. He was a regular collaborator with leading Antwerp painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. I have always been a fan of Flemish and Dutch still lifes and, in fact, often recreated them with real fruit and vegetables as centerpieces at dinner parties.
Snyders was born in Antwerp, son of Jan Snijders, the keeper of a wine inn frequented by artists. Snyders had five siblings. His brother Michiel also became a painter but no works by him are known to have survived. Snyders was recorded as a student of Pieter Brueghel the Younger in 1593, and subsequently trained with Hendrick van Balen, who was the first master of Anthony van Dyck. Snyders became a master of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1602. He travelled to Italy in 1608-9 where he first lived in Rome. He subsequently traveled from Rome to Milan. Jan Brueghel the Elder had introduced him there by letter to the famous art collector Cardinal Borromeo. Brueghel asked Snyders to paint a copy after a portrait by Titian in the Borromeo collection. This act is regarded as evidence that Snyders was a skilled figure painter before he turned his attention to still life painting, although his collaborations with other artists involved him painting animals and backgrounds and the other artists painting the human figures. is collaboration with Rubens started in the 1610s.
Snyders had many patrons including the Ghent Bishop Antonius Triest who commissioned four paintings of market scenes around 1615 (Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). He was a friend of van Dyck who painted Snyders and his wife more than once (leading image). Snyders was commercially successful and was able to purchase a house on the high-end Keizerstraat in Antwerp. In 1628 he became the dean of the Guild of Saint Luke.
In the period 1636-1638 he was one of the Antwerp artists who assisted Rubens in a large commission for decorations for the hunting pavilion Torre de la Parada of Philip IV of Spain. The two artists also worked together on decorations for the Royal Alcazar of Madrid and the royal Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid. Snyders painted about 60 hunting paintings and animal pieces after designs by Rubens. In 1639 Rubens and Snyders received a follow-up commission for an additional 18 paintings for the hunting pavilion.
In the years 1641 and 1642 Snyders traveled with other artists to the Dutch Republic. In 1646 Snyders was probably in Breda working on a commission. Snyders became a widower in 1647. He died on 19 August 1657 in Antwerp. He died childless and bequeathed his fortune to his sister, a beguine (a lay sister in a religious community).
Snyders initially devoted himself to painting flowers, fruit and still lifes. Later he turned to painting animals. He was particularly interested in depicting wild animals, which he showed engaged in lively hunts and fierce combats. He was one of the earliest specialist animaliers. His work as an animal painter was very influential on his contemporaries as well as on 18th-century French animal painters.
His stay in Italy is believed to have had an important influence on his style of fruit painting. He is likely to have seen Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit in Cardinal Borremeo’s collection in Milan.
He painted many market scenes and his earliest work in this area was inspired by the work of Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer who had pioneered and developed the genre in 16th century Antwerp. Whereas Aertsen and Beuckelaer often included a religious scene in the background of their market pieces, Snyders dispensed with this. Initially he worked in a Mannerist idiom. His style gradually matured as a result of his exposure to Italian art during his trip to Italy and the work of Rubens after his return to Antwerp. As a result the dark surroundings of his early still lifes disappeared after 1614 and he became a fine colorist with strong compositional skills allowing him to structure a profusion of disparate objects.
He not only created many large market and pantry scenes and game still lifes, usually including dead deer. He also painted smaller works which were reminiscent of the breakfast pieces and still lifes that originated in northern art around 1600. Rather than continue the descriptive manner of the Antwerp painter Osias Beert, Snyders’ innovative still lifes combined objects in groups to form a geometrically structured composition. Recurring motifs were dead hares and birds, tazze (shallow dishes on a tall foot), baskets with grapes and other fruit, enameled pitchers and Chinese Kraak porcelain.
Snyders typically depicted game in the stage before it is prepared as food. These dead animals therefore resemble hunting trophies, which were often not even intended as food but rather for stuffing. Snyders often included live animals such as cats to create a contrast between the animate and inanimate elements. Snyders’ large game pieces were very influential and the Dutch painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem, who worked in Antwerp for a significant period of time took inspiration from Snyders’ work to develop his own large-scale game pieces.
Snyders is believed to have been a skilled figure painter in his own right as is evidenced by Jan Breughel the Elder’s request that he make a copy after a Titian portrait in the Borromeo collection during his stay in Milan. Even so he still often collaborated with figure artists such as Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, his brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos, Theodoor van Thulden and Jan Boeckhorst, who painted the figures in compositions to which he added the still life elements. He also collaborated with landscape specialists such as Jan Wildens, who provided the landscape setting for his hunting scenes.
Collaborations with Rubens were particularly frequent. Snyders’ expressiveness and ability to render different textures of furs and skins excited the admiration of Rubens. Rubens frequently employed him to paint animals, fruit and still life in his own pictures. Snyders developed a particularly close collaborative relationship with Rubens between 1610 and 1640. Their collaborative efforts are well documented. In the early period of their collaboration, Rubens would paint an oil sketch of the complete composition and mark out clearly where Snyders would have to put his contribution. This has been documented for the painting The recognition of Philopoemen. It is possible that in this early period Rubens was not sure about Snyders’ compositional skills and wanted to show him the way. In the later Prometheus bound the process was reversed and Snyders made a sketch leaving the space for the figure by Rubens. The recognition of Philopoemen is reckoned to be the first Baroque still life with figures.
A famous collaboration between Rubens and Snyders is the Medusa (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Painted around 1613-1617/1618, this small-scale work showed that Snyders’ manner was not only well suited to Rubens’ large pieces, but also adaptable to his smaller-scale works. Rubens relied on Snyders to create the visual richness that went hand in hand with his Baroque style, which stressed abundance and bounteousness. The two artists’ brushwork was so close that contemporaries had difficulty distinguishing their contributions in collaborative works.
Snyders also painted the still life elements for other Antwerp painters such as Jacob Jordaens, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, Jan Janssens and other artists. Frans Snyders collaborated with his second brother-in-law Cornelis de Vos. An example is the Still life with fruit and vegetables, which likely represents a larder of a fine house. The impression given by this composition is one of abundance as well as chaos. Closer inspection shows that the produce is arranged in a hierarchy reflecting their value and rarity. Cheaper root vegetables are on the ground while highly prized peas and asparagus are placed in the basket on the right.
One of the symbolic representations that Snyders created and to which he returned regularly is the concert of birds. Compositions on this theme represent different species of birds perched on tree trunks in the form of a concert of birds, sometimes with a musical score. The theme of the concert of birds predates the courtly fashion of the Baroque period of maintaining aviaries.
His compositions with monkeys wreaking havock in a pantry became very popular. The Louvre collection holds two monkey-themed paintings. They show two capuchin monkeys in a pantry pillaging a basket of fruit and toppling dishes. While the monkey had since the Middle Ages symbolized the sinner – a greedy, lecherous creature, driven by its senses only – during the 16th and 17th centuries it became the prime symbol of stupidity.
Here’s a 17th century Flemish/Dutch recipe for the day. It comes from an anonymous text of 1667: De verstandige kock, of sorghvuldige huys houdster (the wise cook, or caring householder). I am a little uncertain of my translation in places, given that I speak no Dutch. It says to spice the meat with “Noten” for example, which usually means “nuts” but is translated as “nutmeg” in some versions online of this recipe. I have not tried this recipe yet, but on first glance I can see problems with placing egg yolks raw inside a ground veal wrapping. It seems like a pretty idea but rather difficult to manage. I’d be inclined to boil some eggs first, take out the yolks whole, then pack the ground veal mix around them and wrap them in lettuce leaves. It’s also possible that this whole idea is a misreading of the recipe, but it is specific about one yolk per meatball.
Om Frickedillen in Krop-Salaet te maken.
Neemt gehakt kalfs-vlees, met kalfsvet wat vetter als ordinaris, en dat wel gekruydt met Noten en een weynich Foelie, Peper en Sout na behooren, kneet wel ondereen, neemt dan soo veel van de malste kroppen salaet als’t u belieft, en suyvert die van de buytenste bladeren, en dan schoon uytgewassen en de krop van binnen de bladers wat open ghedaen, neemt dan soo veel eyren als gy kroppen hebt, maeckt oock soo veel Frickedillekens, en doet in’t midden van yder den door van een ey, leght dan in de krop en bindt hem met een draedt toe, en als’t water koockt, doet in de pot als het gaer is, kont dan in’t sop een weynigh fijn gestooten beschuyt doen, en wat boter, wat Kruys-bessen of onrijpe Druyven, Verjuys, naer elck sijn believen.
To make meatballs in lettuce head.
Take chopped veal with veal-fat, a little fatter than usual, and spice it with nutmeg and a little mace, pepper and salt as appropriate. Knead everything together, then take as many tender lettuce heads as you please, and take off the outer leaves. Wash the heads and open up the inner leaves. Take as many eggs as you have heads and make as many little meatballs [from the ground veal mixture]. Place an egg yolk in the middle of each [meatball], and put it inside the head. Tie it up with string. Boil water in a pot and place them in the boiling water. When cooked you can add to the broth a little finely crushed rusk and some butter, some gooseberries or unripe grapes or verjuice, according to your tastes.