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Frans Snyders (Antwerp 1579-1657)
Frans Snyders (Antwerp 1579-1657)

A draped table laden with game, fruit, vegetables and a boar's head

Details
Frans Snyders (Antwerp 1579-1657)
A draped table laden with game, fruit, vegetables and a boar's head
signed 'F. Snyders fecit' (lower right)
oil on canvas
46½ x 52½ in. (118.2 x 133.4 cm.)
Provenance
Acquired by Col. George Gosling (1842-1915), Stratton Audley, Oxfordshire, by circa 1889, and by descent.

Lot Essay

Snyders’s still lifes of larder tables, overflowing with game, fruit and meat, are some of the most enduringly popular compositions in his oeuvre. This completely unrecorded work is an exceptional addition to the corpus of a master who pioneered the development of Flemish still life painting.

Between 1614 and 1618, Snyders established the canonical model of his larder scene, which featured selections of luxurious delicacies – small birds, boars, artichokes, asparagus, fruit – spread over a red tablecloth. Whilst it is difficult to establish a chronology for an oeuvre that contains only a few known dated works, the 1630s and 40s saw the artist staging more economical compositions with a greater sense of order, unified by intersecting curves and dynamic spirals. Genre figures were eliminated to create an independent type of painting that brought the still life in greater proximity of the viewer. Greyish-green backgrounds complemented the luminous effect of his colourful palette, achieved by the application of transparent glazes, a technique he mastered in the 1610s. The large, fluid composition of this picture, coupled with the intricate detail usually found in smaller cabinet works, is a painting of exceptional quality by a master at the height of his powers, suggesting that it would have been a significant commission.

Alongside Rubens, Snyders worked for both the local civic government and the royal court in Spain, and it is depictions of game and hunting that brought him renown among his contemporaries. In their collaboration on The Recognition of Philopoemen (Madrid, Museo del Prado, inv. 1851) in circa 1609, Rubens’s sketch for the work (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. M.I.967) provided Snyders with the compositional paradigm of later still lifes such as the present. Rubensian baroque diagonals imbue Snyders’s larder scene with monumental grandeur, while the focus is concentrated on the right side of the table, viewed from a high vantage point so as to reveal a deeper and more realistic sense of three-dimensional space.

The compositional balance gains a moral dimension in the shadowed overabundance of luxuries to the right, pyramidally interwoven around the popular motif of the boar’s head, both a hunting trophy and the bearer of a multitude of symbolic associations, from sexual virility to the sinner and the devil. It opposes the left, a register viewed in religious iconography as at God’s favoured ‘right’ hand, with the bright simplicity of the tazza, bathed in a golden light and laden with fruit, the grapes symbolic of the blood of Christ and the Eucharist, the apples, the Fall of Man, and the vine and branches, Christ and his followers, unyielding to (the parrot’s) attack. In this balance of life and death, the narrative is framed by two living creatures that intersect the composition: the cat and parrot. The cat was a common motif in Snyders’s animal repertory, viewed as a thief and companion to witches and their master the devil, and associated with the sense of sight and its adverse affect on human behaviour. The parrot conversely was a popular pet of the aristocratic city patrician and thus a sign of social importance. The cat’s pursuit and the parrot’s obliviousness are allusive to the viewer’s heedless admiration of the painting’s luxuries, indifferent that they too are part of the same cycle of life and death, and a warning against the dangers of visual temptation.

We are grateful to Dr. Fred Meijer of the RKD, The Hague, for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs. Dr. Meijer considers the work to be an excellent addition to Snyders’s oeuvre.

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