Franz Snyders

Franz Snyders Flowers and Fruit, painted between 1601 and 1657

Frans Snyders, painting in Antwerp, studied under Pieter Brugel the Younger. Snyder became part of a vibrant group of artists, including Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. In 1602 Snyders became a master painter in the Antwerp Painter’s Guild.

Snyders’ initial subjects were still-lifes of fruit and flower and other inanimate objects, emphasizing light play. Soon his specialty became the depiction of animals among and around still-lifes. He was often employed by Rubens to paint still-lifes and animals in Ruben’s paintings.

His paintings display birds and mammals, occasionally fish, reptiles or invertebrates, hung on a wall, over a hearth, or from hooks on a wooden rack. Other creatures were just laid across the table, perhaps with their head dangling over the edge or draped over a fruit or vegetable. 

In the midst of some of these scenes Snyders introduced portraits of living animals such as dogs, monkeys, or parrots. Usually the animals were just observing, sniffing, and hoping for a free meal. In one portrayal of a basket of fruit, a few dead game animals, and some vegetables a monkey and a squirrel are surreptitiously attempting to grab a few pieces of fruit while a cat looks on, more interested in the dead animals on the table. Many of the deceased creatures on the table were birds.

In the 16th century, birds were considered noble but with a ranking. Eagles, hawks, and falcons stood higher than other birds. Second in line were the birds that ate invertebrates: cuckoo, nightingale, parrot, and pheasant for example. Water birds that ate vegetation, as do geese, swans, and ducks, came third and the seed-eating songbirds ranked last.


Only 8% of birds included in pantry scenes were in the parrot family and these were lovebirds. No macaws or gray parrots, which occur frequently in his other paintings. His Still Life with Gray Parrot communicates status, health, and wealth via successful international trade. Scarlet Macaws are common in Snyders’ other paintings, perhaps symbolic or perhaps their bright red color balanced the painting.

Snyder’s most famous painting may be The Concert of the Birds. The painting presents a colorful diversity of birds surrounding an owl as concertmaster holding a musical score. The theme is taken from Aesop’s The Owl and the Birds, but it is also linked to a Dutch proverb, “Every bird sings the way he knows how.” Snyders’ influence made this theme popular in 17th-century Flemish art.