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Daniel Seghers - Still life of roses, irises, hyacinths, jasmine and a carnation in a glass vase, with a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)

Daniel Seghers

Still life of roses, irises, hyacinths, jasmine and a carnation in a glass vase, with a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)

Oil on copper: 19 x 14 (in) / 48.3 x 35.6 (cm)
Signed lower right: DS. (in ligature) Soc.tis JESU

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Antwerp 1590 - Antwerp - 1661

Ref: BV 229


Still life of roses, irises, hyacinths, jasmine and a carnation in a glass vase, with a Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta)


Signed lower right: DS. (in ligature) Soc.tis JESU

Oil on copper: 19 x 14 in / 48.3 x 35.6 cm

Frame size: 26 x 21 in / 66 x 53.3 cm

Painted in the 1640s


In a polished black seventeenth century style frame




Private collection, Paris, acquired by inheritance in 1987



This painting is an exquisite and rare example of the work of Daniel Seghers, the Jesuit priest famed throughout Europe for his still lifes. A pupil of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), Seghers specialised in flower garlands, often surrounding a portrait of the Virgin May supplied by a collaborating artist, and delicate bouquets of flowers in a glass vase, as here.


The magic of Seghers’s painting lies in his restraint and directness. In this painting, as always, the bouquet is contained in a simple glass vase, with its tiny reflection of the studio window among the flower stalks. Seghers chooses flowers readily found in gentlemen’s gardens in Antwerp, or in the garden of his own Jesuit house or the Order’s country estate: a tulip, roses, hyacinths, irises, jasmine, a carnation. They are all just coming into bloom, or in pristine state. Working against a very dark background, Seghers applies the paint lusciously, in a less linear manner than his teacher Jan Brueghel the Elder: shapes and shadows are created through the bold juxtaposition of colour. The way in which Seghers makes the white flowers on the perimeter of the composition – the rosebud, hyacinth flowers and jasmine – twist in space is nothing short of miraculous.


The composition is centred by four roses, each different in type and colour, from which the bouquet of long, slender flowers springs. Given Seghers’s status as a Jesuit priest, the echo of a cruciform shape is undoubtedly intentional. Founded in 1540 by the soldier St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the Jesuit Order was at the intellectual and cultural forefront of the Counter-Reformation. Seghers would have regarded his flower paintings as celebrating the glory of God’s Creation; they were often used as diplomatic gifts, particularly to Protestant Princes, a gentle assertion of the cultural superiority of the Catholic church.


As a Jesuit, in addition to his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Pope, Seghers would have had a special dedication to the Virgin Mary, who held a key place in St Ignatius’s writings. This flowerpiece is shot through with Marian imagery. The rose and the iris (fleur-de-lis) are associated with the Virgin and often seen with her in fifteenth century Flemish paintings. Jasmine stands for purity. The carnation (dianthos, or flower of God, in Greek), became associated with the divine love revealed by the Incarnation, the streaks of red among the white recalling Christ’s sacrifice upon the Cross. The Red Admiral butterfly, seeking nectar upside-down on the tip of the pink rosebud, would have recalled to a seventeenth century viewer the Soul’s fragility and its upward flight to Heaven.


Seghers anchored his compositions by blocking in the main flowers with blobs of bright colour and adding ever more intricate layers to model the blooms. He conveys the different textures of the species, from the waxy quality of the hyacinths to the translucent rose petals. His palette is clear and cool, his pinks tinged with lilac, his blues strong, and the whole composition wound through with white of a dazzling purity. Like most flower painters of his day, Seghers brings together blooms that do not flower together in nature – the jasmine from the end of winter, the hyacinths and tulips in April, the roses and carnation in June. Such naturalistic-looking bouquets were assembled by reference to drawings (or perhaps oil studies) kept in the studio. This can be proved by comparison of the present work with the Vase of flowers in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It shares with the Fitzwilliam painting a very similar assemblage of roses at the centre of the composition, the tulip at top right, the white rosebud at the left and the exquisite jasmine flower seen in profile at bottom right. It is Seghers’s genius, however, to make us see these flowers with his own intense vision, newly created every time.





Daniel Seghers, A vase of flowers. Oil on copper 18 7/8 x 13 ¾ in / 48 x 35 cm.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, inv. no.PD.42-1975.



1590 – Antwerp – 1661


Daniel Seghers was born in Antwerp on 3rd December 1590, the son of the silk merchant Pierre Seghers (d. c.1601) and Marguerite van Gheel. He was brought up in the northern Netherlands by his mother, who converted to Calvinism. He began studying painting around 1605 and was enrolled as a Master in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp in 1611, with Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) named as his teacher. Seghers reconverted to Catholicism and in 1614 entered the Jesuit Order in Mechelen as a novice. He lived in Antwerp from 1617 to 1621. In the latter year he is recorded as a painter at the Collège de Bruxelles, producing two large Garlands of flowers for the cathedral of St Michel in Brussels. In 1625 he took his final vows as a Jesuit priest and henceforth signed his works Daniel Seghers Societatis Jesu. From 1625-27 Seghers was in Rome, painting flower garlands for ecclesiastical patrons. He returned to Antwerp and remained there until his death in 1661, working as a flower painter at the Jesuit house.


Dated paintings exist only from 1635 to 1651 and it is quite difficult to construct a chronology for Seghers’s work. He painted floral garlands and bouquets, usually in a simple glass vase. The garlands, which are characteristically symmetrical, become more elaborate as his career progresses. Seghers eschewed exotic blooms in favour of exquisitely-rendered examples of cultivated garden flowers, particularly roses, tulips and carnations. They are usually depicted in a state of pristine freshness, never overblown or with decay. Seghers’s manner is less linear than that of his teacher Jan Brueghel, with a wonderful directness of brushwork.


Seghers developed the idea of the flower garland round a devotional image, employed by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and others, introducing trompe l’oeil stone cartouches containing a statue, typically of the Virgin, or a holy portrait. These figures were supplied by collaborators, including Rubens himself, Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert (1613/14-1654) and Simon de Vos (1603-1676).


Seghers’s fame spread throughout Europe. As a Jesuit, who had taken a vow of poverty, he was not allowed to accept payment for his work. His paintings were frequently used by his Order as diplomatic gifts, often to Protestant rulers, as symbols of the cultural resurgence of the Counter-Reformation. His works entered the collections of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange-Nassau, Queen Christina of Sweden and Charles I of England; the young Charles II, exiled in the Netherlands, visited Seghers’s studio in 1649. The polymath Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), Secretary to three Dutch Stadholders, maintained a lively correspondence with Seghers and they swapped poems and recipes for paints. In 1644 Seghers gave Huygens a garland of flowers which decorate a grisaille portrait of Huygens by Jan Cossiers (1600-1671). It has recently been acquired by the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Unusually for his time, at the age of seventy-one Daniel Seghers made an inventory of the 239 paintings that he had made and their destinations, entitled Catalogue van de bloem-stukken, die ik self met mijn hand heb geschildert en voor wie (Catalogue of the still lifes I painted and for whom)[1]. Seghers only pupil was Jan Philips van Thielen (1618-1667), but his style was highly influential. Seghers died in Antwerp in 1661.


The work of Daniel Seghers is represented in the Mauritshuis, The Hague; the Vatican Museums, Rome; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the Prado, Madrid; the Louvre, Paris; the Royal Collection, London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Narodny Galerie, Prague; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA and the Museum of Art, Toledo, OH.



[1] Published by W Couvreur, ‘Daniel Seghers’ inventaris van door hem geschilderde bloemstukken’ in Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis den de Oudheidkunde, xx, 1967, pp.87-158.


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