1590 Antwerp - 1661
Panel, 34,6 x 49,2 cm
Daniel Seghers was a Flemish Jesuit brother and painter who specialised in flower still lifes. He is particularly well known for his contributions to the genre of "flower Garland" painting which were enthusiastically collected and found numerous followers and imitators.
The artist was born in Antwerp in 1590 as the son of the silk merchant Pieter Seghers and Marguerite van Gheeland. Following his fathers death in 1601, his mother converted to Calvinism and moved with her son to the Northern Netherlands, probably to Utrecht. After his returned to Antwerp in 1610 he re-converted to the Catholicism. In the same time the young artist was enrolled in the Guild of Saint Luke and became a pupil of Jan Brueghel the Elder. Only one year later he was accepted as an independent master in the city’s painters guild of Antwerp.
In 1614 Daniel Seghers followed his call and served as a novice in the Jesuit order in Mechelen, Belgium. His final vows as a lay brother were recorded in 1625, the same year of his departure to Rome where he stayed until 1627 for the Jesuit order as a priest. During this years Seghers had the opportunity to work on several projects with leading painters of his time. He collaborated with Nicolas Poussin on a few religious paintings as well as the Italian painter Domenichino. After two years in Italy he returned to Antwerp, to work as a priest and painter in his monastery until he passed away in 1661.
Towards the end of his life he made a record of his work in the “Catalogue of Flower Pieces which I have painted with my own hand, and for whom” in which 239 paintings were listed. However, in most cases the descriptions are too generic to identified his works with any certainty.
It is noted that most of his paintings were donations to royal dynasties by the Jesuits and used for the adornment of churches. They served as stimulants to religious contemplation and as a powerful instruments of diplomacy. Seghers compositions clearly carried a symbolic and meditational element, which was in line with the doctrines of the Jesuits tradition.
His name was praised by his contemporaries in verses and his fame drew illustrious visitors to his studio such as Marie de' Medici, Christina of Sweden, Charles I., Philip IV. of Spain, Charles II. and the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria who sent holy relics and other treasures for the Jesuits and gifts for the artist in return.
Daniel Seghers and his Antwerp master Jan Brueghel the Elder can be seen as the inventors of the „flower Garland paintings“ which represent the majority genre of his pictures. Other artists in the first decades of the seventeen century involved in the early development of this type include Hendrick van Balen, Andries Daniels and Peter Paul Rubens. Typically for this genre is a grand looped festoons of flowers encircling a central image such as a religious symbol or devotional portrait, which was executed in collaboration with other figure painters. The known prototype and most famous garlands surrounding „Virgin Mary and Child“ was painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. Later Seghers went on to develop a distinctive type of backdrop for his floral still lifes that took the form of a dark, trompe l’oeil stonework niche or sculpted cartouche.
In this work the artists main uncompromising interest was the textural nuances of the flowers as such. The illusion is enhanced by the extremely naturalistic elements which he presented in delicate half tone colours. Distinguished by an refined sense of tones, this garland has a tactile, almost sculptural appeal to the viewer. Under the strong lighting, the bright colours of the painted objects emerge boldly from the neutral black background.
Interesting is also the artists great attention to botanical accuracy in the many different species of flowers depicted one can easily recognise. Our opulent arranged garland shows a swag of flowers, including a provins-rose, a peony, a yellow Austrian briar, buds of red roses, striped tulips, bound together and suspended with wine leaves on two blue velvet ribbons from the upper corners of the canvas. Species like striped tulips were regarded as rare and exotic commodities. The precious quality of the flowers in painted garlands served as an aid to engage the viewer’s attention.
The colourful flowers are animated through a variety of butterflies, bugs, bees, dragonflies and details such as the water drops on the leaves.
The depicted flowers often include species with symbolic significance, linking to the thematic content of the -in this case missing- central image. One could imagine that the roses and the irises in our painting could be associated with Virgin Mary.
As most of the here used flowers bloomed at different times of the year, we must assume that the painter did not paint after nature, but combined different preparatory drawings. The opulent baroque flower bouquet is captured in full bloom showing the beauty but also transience of life. The futility of pleasure as well as the certainty of death and decay.
Paintings in Museums and Public Collections:
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Louvre Museum, Paris
Vatican Museum, Vatican City
National Gallery, Danemark
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Old Master Picture Gallery, Dresden
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
The Royal Collection, London
Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Museo Diocesano di Milan, Milan
National Museum, Warsaw
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Private collection, Spain until 2018