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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Daniel Seghers

Swags of Flowers (detail), Daniel Seghers
It's not often that I come upon a type of art that has, it would seem, completely died out. Back during the 1600s, in the "low" countries of Belgium, Holland, and the Netherlands, there flourished a type of art called "garland painting." The closest thing we have today would be a Christmas wreath, and even at that we tend to prefer the real (or artificial) thing, except for clip art and Christmas cards, over paintings. However, this type of work from the Dutch "Golden Age," had nothing to do with Christmas other than indirectly, as seen in the fact they often encircled a painted image of a Madonna and Child. There were no evergreens, no pinecones, no poinsettia, no dusting of frost, no ribbons, bells, nor whistles. There were lots of roses and other floral embellishments usually without regard for their individual growing seasons. Their circular arrangement around a religious image or portrait served as little more than a glorified picture frame, redundant in that the whole painting had its own picture frame. In checking the Internet, I could find no modern-day artist pursuing anything remotely similar to the work of the Flemish painter, Daniel Seghers.
Flower Garland, Daniƫl Seghers
Daniel Seghers, 1661,
Gulden Cabinet, Cornelis de Bie
There remains today a plethora of floral painters, make no mistake about that; but they tend to be artist who have taken to rendering "permanent" flower arrange-ments--bouquets set, either in their natural environments or arranged in a vase on a stylized surface. The work of Daniel Seghers and others were basically still-lifes of the tromp l'oel variety and were always depicted on some kind of dark, vertical surface (causing the buds and blossoms to take on a kind of glow.) Some were painted from life, while others, even in the same painting, were apparently added from the artist's familiarity, having painted them at one time or another in season. Roses predominated, but this being Holland and the Netherlands, Tulips were also popular, as well as daffodils, buttercups, chrysanthemums, lilies, irises, and several other types going well beyond my meager ability to identify such things (top).
A Garland Of Flowers Surrounding The Coronation Of The Virgin, Jan Brueghel (the elder)
Virgin and Child with Infant St John
in a Garland of Flowers, 1630s,
Jan Brueghel (the younger)
This type of work developed from the paintings of Jan Brueghel (the elder), under whom Seghers studied, though Brueghel's work (above) never matched the lively, more natural painting efforts of his student. If Virgin and Child with Infant St John in a Garland of Flowers (left) is any indication, Brueghel also seems to have trained his son in the art of garland painting. Seghers apparently had his own flower garden. But then, so did about everyone else at the time (the low countries went "flower crazy" during the 17th-century). Seghers took generously from his ready supply of blooms and likely found the need to replace them from time to time as he meticulously painted each blossom at a pace much slower than their tendency to wilt. Keep in mind, these were not arrangements stuck in water but attached to a vertical surface around a central open area.
Garland with Virgin, 1645-46, Daniel Seghers
The center of interest presented a problem to such artists. No matter how good they might be at painting flowers, they were seldom good at much else. The art market in this area of western Europe was almost unbelievably specialized, to a degree we can hardly imagine today. Thus, garland painting involved another factor we seldom see today--collaboration. The garland painter did the background and the flower arrangement, then employed, or sold the work, to other artists who very often added images in the middle. Garland paintings were also seen as appropriate for portraits of recently deceased loved ones (untimely death being a frequent occurrence in every family at the time). Also to be found in such collaborations were the occasional landscape, nude mythological figure, or non-floral still-life.
San Ignacio in a Garland of Flowers, Daniel Seghers,
unusual for its use of browns and the heart-shaped configuration.
Daniel Seghers was born in Antwerp around 1590. The family was originally Catholic but converted to Calvinism after the death of Seghers' father about 1601, when his mother moved to Utrecht. It was there that Seghers came to study under Brueghel. Around 1614, now a young man in his twenties, Daniel Seghers converted back to Catholicism and began studying for the priesthood in the Jesuit order. Two of his garland paintings can be seen in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula where he took his priestly vows around 1525-26. After a two-year hiatus in Rome, Seghers returned to Antwerp where he continued to paint garlands of flowers (above) until his death in 1661 at the age of seventy-one.
Virgin of Guirnalda, Peter Paul Rubens with Jan Brueghel

A Still-life of Flowers in a 
Glass Vase, Daniel Seghers
Garland painting appears to have been something of a 17th-century fad (if you can call one-hundred years a fad). Besides Brueghel, evidence indicates Seghers also collaborated with Peter Paul Rubens and may have, in fact added garlands to already completed paintings by Rubens and others. It's seems likely Seghers also painted flowers in a number of more traditional still-life arrangements as evidenced by his A Still-life of Flowers in a Glass Vase (right). In any case, Seghers' work was quite collectible at the time, his services bringing a respectable sum for a still-life painter. However floral painting evolved, coming "off the wall" and into the vase in the centuries to follow. I could find no such art painted during the Victorian 19th century and precious little during the hundred years before. It became a dying art. Today, it would seem to be a dead art.

Sommerleuchten (detail), Daniel Seghers


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