Raised a protestant, Daniel Seghers converted to Catholicism and joined the Jesuit order: The signature, which includes the suffix “Soctis JES”, records Seghers’ membership of the Society of Jesus. Seghers even became the originator of a thoroughly catholic type of still life painting; flower garlands decorating an elaborately carved stone cartouche and framing typically contemplative religious scenes. Seghers specialised almost exclusively in paintings based on this concept. They paved the way for his acclaim and sparked a wide following with fellow artists, including his own pupil Jan Philips van Thielen. This splendidly preserved work, executed on a large slate of copper, is a superior sample.
The formula of flowers and a sculptural cartouche encircling a religious scene invited collaboration with fellow artists specialized in figures for the central scene, and – indeed – Seghers often collaborated with painters, such as Rubens, Hendrick van Balen, Thomas Willboirts Bosschaert, Simon de Vos and, while in Rome (1625-27), with Nicolas Poussin and Domenichino. The most fruitful liaison, however, was with Erasmus Quellinus, with whom he produced about thirty pictures and who also painted the true-to-life bas-relief in the centre of the composition here, featuring The Holy Family supplemented with St. John.
Seghers did not paint for commercial profit but presented the majority of his pictures to princes, nobility and dignitaries across Europe. This we know largely thanks to the eighteenth-century manuscript copy of Seghers’ own inventory, kept until the year of the artist’s death, which also informs us uniquely well about his output, which amounted to a sizable body of 239 paintings (see: W. Couvreur, ‘Daniel Seghers’ inventaris van door hem geschilderde bloemstukken’, in Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis den de Oudheidkunde, XX, 1967, pp. 87-158). Several descriptions in this list, which cannot be connected with other extant paintings, can in fact apply to the present work (nos. 204, 206, 227, 228 and 230). Unfortunately, the entries are not detailed enough to allow for a definite identification but since the list is chronological and none of the earlier descriptions match our painting, we may surmise it is a mature production.
Compared to the vast majority of Segher’s flower garlands decorating a cartouche, the present work is of smaller dimensions. Seghers adorned the also more modest composition with two choice swags of flowers, focussing on the varied and sometimes complex shapes of the flowers in full glory. The crisply highlighted petals leap forward from the dimly lit stone background and are eloquently counterbalanced with the equally sharply lit central scene, achieving a refined simplicity.