A contemporary and collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Snyders was among the most accomplished painters of animals and still lifes in 17th-century Flanders. Like Rubens, Snyders spent most of his life in Antwerp, where he began his career as an apprentice to Pieter Brueghel II in 1593. He became a master in the city’s Guild of Saint Luke in 1602, and in 1608 traveled to Italy for a year-long sojourn. At the time, Jan Breughel I – brother to Snyders’ frst teacher and himself a close friend and collaborator of Rubens – was also traveling in the Continent and had collected a number of prestigious patrons there. On 26 September 1608, Jan wrote to the great collector Cardinal Federico Borromeo that ‘one of the best painters of Antwerp’ was on his way to Milan. As a result, Synders was able to secure Borromeo’s patronage, remaining as the Cardinal’s guest in Milan until his return in 1609 to Antwerp, where he would go on to have a highly successful career and lead a thriving workshop.
Snyders was both an exceptional technician and a master of Baroque compositional drama, as is exemplified by this lively panel. Although his predecessors in the still-life genre – such as Pieter Aersten and Joachim Beuckelaer – favored large kitchen or market-pieces, Snyders’ imagery transformed the genre into a new, exuberant idiom characterized by vitality, verisimilitude and a focus on spatial construction. Here, Synders’ confidence and masterful handling is clear. Beautifully rendered details in thick strokes of paint abound: the bristling fur of the frenzied cats; the crust of the rolls in the overturned basket; the gleaming handles of the forks and knives; the juicy freshness of the artichokes and asparagus; the rounded moldings on the copper bowl; the slippery sinews of the dressed lamb; and the icy translucency of the grapes at left all reveal his unmistakable hand.
The raucous cats tumbling through the window here were clearly appreciated by Snyders’ associates, as a number of variants of the composition – all with significant differences – attest. The present panel is, however, the only known autograph treatment of this motif by Snyders himself. Of the known variants, a canvas in the Prado, Madrid (inv. 1866) and one sold at Sotheby’s, Monaco, 20-21 June 1987, lot 356, are attributed to Snyders’ student Paul de Vos. A drawing in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (fig. 1) has been attributed to Jan Fyt and is likely a ricordo after the present composition. We are grateful to Fred Meijer, who has confirmed the attribution on the basis of a photograph, for his assistance in cataloguing this lot (written communication, 20 March 2017).