Antwerp, baptised 24 November 1592–Brussels, 29 January 1667
Peter Snayers  was a pupil of Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573–1647), and became a master of the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp in 1612/13. Shortly after 1625/6 he moved to Brussels, where he became a citizen in 1628 and where he worked for Archduke Albert (1559–1621) and Archduchess Isabella (1566–1633). He was particularly noted for aerial depictions of the battlefields of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48). With Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) he worked on a never completed series of the battles of Henri IV of France (1553–1610; see under Vrancx, DPG356, Related works, no. 5, Fig.).1 He was appointed court painter to the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand (1609–41), Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands from 1634 to 1641. Ferdinand took steps after his arrival to distance himself from his clerical calling and to emphasize his military skills, and it is tempting to see his choice of the battle painter Snayers as part of this programme. Later Snayers also worked for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614–62).
Snayers painted portraits and hunting scenes as well, sometimes in conjunction with Rubens, most notably for the decoration of Philip IV’s hunting lodge outside Madrid, the Torre de la Parada. He was a friend of Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), who painted his portrait. Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632–90) was his pupil. Snayers was also a notable collector: the posthumous sale of his collection in 1675 included 427 paintings.
Cuvelier 1944–6; De Maeyer 1955, pp. 171–4; Larsen 1985, pp. 296–7; Van de Velde 1996a; Vlieghe 1998a, p. 173; Kelchtermans 2013; Kelchtermans 2020; Ecartico, no. 6907: http://www.vondel.humanities.uva.nl/ecartico/persons/6907 (Nov. 6, 2017); RKDartists&, no. 73638: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/73638 (Dec. 7, 2019).
Anthony van Dyck
Portrait of Peter Snayers (1592-1667), 1626-1632
canvas, oil paint 29 x 21 cm
Munich, Alte Pinakothek, inv./cat.nr. 592
DPG347 – A Cavalry Skirmish
1646; canvas, 74 x 109.2 cm
Signed, bottom centre left: Del Se C Is Pintor [i.e. Del Serenissime Cardinali Infantis Pintor ([court] painter of the very distinguished Cardinal Infante [Ferdinand])2
?Greenwood, London, 30 April 1807 (Lugt 7232), lot 74 (‘Snayers – Landscape and a Skirmish of Cavalry’; £3); Bourgeois Bequest, 1811; Britton 1813, p. 14, no. 119 (‘Passage on top of Stairs / no. 8, Battle piece: several figures, Cavalry &c. – C[anvas]’; no attribution; 3'10" x 4'9").
Cat. 1817, p. 9, no. 139 (‘SECOND ROOM – North Side; Skirmish of Cavalry; Snayers’); Haydon 1817, p. 383, no. 139; Cat. 1820, p. 9, no. 139 (Snayers); Cat. 1830, p. 5, no. 45; Jameson 1842, ii, p. 450, no. 45; Kugler 1846, p. 307 (note by E. Head); Waagen 1854, ii, p. 343;3 Denning 1858 and 1859, no. 45; Sparkes 1876, p. 165, no. 45; Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. 155, no. 45; Richter & Sparkes 1892 and 1905, p. 96, no. 347; Wurzbach, ii, 1906–11, p. 631; Cook 1914, p. 208; Cook 1926, p. 194; Cat. 1953, p. 37; Murray 1980a, p. 301; Wollheim 1987, pp. 68–9 (fig. 53); Wollheim 1991, pp. 125–6, 128 (fig. 41); Vander Auwera 1998a; Beresford 1998, p. 223; Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, p. 230; Sennewald & Hrnčiřík 2018, pp. 370–72; RKD, no. 286585: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/286585 (Feb. 25, 2020; with detail of the signature in ill. 1001639522).
Münster/Osnabrück 1998/9, pp. 145–6, no. 421 (J. Vander Auwera).4
Plain-weave linen canvas. Thin cream ground. Glue-paste lined; the tacking margins are absent. There are several old tears and areas of damage, including one large tear towards the lower left side. The paint layers are in good condition but are rather abraded, particularly in the sky. The trees on the horizon have discoloured from green to grey and brown. Fading or abrasion on the horizon has made the distant hills too blue, and two houses in the far distance have almost disappeared. Previous recorded treatment: 1911, relined, Holder; 1953–68, relined, new stretcher, cleaned and restored, Dr Hell; 1980, surface cleaned, retouchings adjusted, revarnished, National Maritime Museum, C. Hampton.
1) Peter Snayers, Cavalry Skirmish, signed and dated PEETER.SNAYERS. 1646, canvas, 79 x 104 cm. Prado, Madrid, 1735 .5
Snayers specialized in scenes of skirmishes such as this, and was particularly skilled at imposing order on the chaotic battlefield. If depicting a ‘real’ battle, however, he took a bird’s-eye-view to give a clear picture of the events, with a high horizon, as Karel van Mander prescribed in his Schilderboeck (1604).6 DPG347 seems not to depict a real event, but rather to be the sort of decorative scene that Philips Wouwerman (1619–68) was to paint later in the Northern Netherlands, often including a white horse as an eyecatcher. Vander Auwera, though, thinks it was probably meant as a universal and unambiguous warning against the lethal dangers of war. Sennewald however seems to suggest, without further argument, that the Siege of Ypres in 1649 is depicted here.7
The inscription refers to Snayers’s position as court painter to the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand. Since he arrived in the Spanish Netherlands in 1634, the picture must have been painted in or after that year. According to Vander Auwera Snayers continued to sign himself thus after Ferdinand’s death in 1641; he notes that DPG347 is stylistically very close to a cavalry skirmish by Snayers in the Prado which is dated 1646 (Related works, no. 1) .
Cavalry skirmish, c. 1646
canvas, oil paint 74 x 109,3 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG347
Cavalry skirmish, dated 1646
canvas, oil paint 79 x 104 cm
lower left : .PEETER.SNAYERS. 1646
Madrid (Spain), Museo Nacional del Prado, inv./cat.nr. 1735
1 Vander Auwera 1998a, p. 461; Siefert 1993a, pp. 106–7, no. 21.
2 This signature seems to be a mixture of Spanish, Latin and Italian. In Spanish it should have been ‘Del Serenisimo Cardinal Infante Pintor’; in Italian ‘Del Serenissimo Cardinale Infante Pittore’; in Latin ‘De Serenissimi Cardinali Infantis Pictor’. With thanks to Matthijs Jonker (email to Ellinoor Bergvelt, 28 Jan. 2020; DPG347 file). Helen Hillyard confirmed that the letter after the capital S is an ‘e’ (see detail on RKD website, images no. 286585, ill. 1001639522), which is not correct in any of those languages.
3 ‘A clear and carefully painted picture, by this early but very meritorious landscape and cattle painter. (No. 45.)’
4 In the German version of the catalogue the title and date of the picture are ‘Reitergefecht, nach 1634’; in English ‘Cavalry Skirmish, after 1635’, see Bussmann & Schilling 1998a and 1998b.
6 Miedema 1973, i, pp. 130–33, ii, pp. 469–70.
7 The Dulwich picture is illustrated under the heading ‘The Siege of Ypres 1649’, with the title Cavalry Skirmish.