Salvadore Dali had nothing on the unintentionally surreal, 17th century study sheets of Michael Snijders, Flemish, draughtsman, publisher & art dealer.

Michael Snijders was a Flemish print artist, art dealer, draftsman, publisher. He was born in Antwerp in 1586 & died there, aged 87 on December 18th 1672.

Exactly what possessedSnijders to create and publish these crazed engravings is unknown, but publish them he did. In Antwerp sometime between 1610 & 1672.

Whilst being totally unlike anything else from the period content perspective, in truthSnijders most likely created them as publicity peices that would stand out. “Study sheets” produced and published solely to showcaseSnijders range of engraving abilities, to generate commissions rather than demonstrate his insane imagination.

Snijders chose to feature exotic fruits brought from faraway lands, newly discovered animals, mythical and invented creatures, he ripped off famous imagery of iconic superstars, plundered antiquity, threw in a few key religious themes and used symbolism that the 17th century public would easily understand. The images are to a degree about modernity and progress. The exotic overseas fruits reflect Dutch exploration, travel and global reach, the menagerie of animals talk to exciting advances inknowledge of natural history and the famous faces tell us about who and what was respected and celebrated.

Each “study” is a uniquely strange and evocative collage, packed full of Flemish culture, a rich mélange of elements bouncing off each other, brimming with deep and hidden meaning.

More than 300 years afterSnijders created these prints, we can never truly and completely understand their every nuance.

Study sheet with drawing examples: portraits, animals, insects.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after Joris Hoefnagel, after Aegidius Sadeler, 1610 – 1672.

From left to right in the centre are 3 portraits: first there’s Frederik III the Wise (Elector of Saxony) notable as being one of the most powerful early defenders of Martin Luther.Snijders hasFrederik III the Wise’s head sitting snugly in the hairy shell of a coconut. FromFrederik III the Wise’s left, a mosquito approaches and afox is looking at him admiringly. A goat is walking jauntily on his (then famous) floppy hat. In the middle we have the pointy-bearded artist of theFlemish Baroque, Sir Anthony van Dyck. Behind Sir Anthony’s head, which is perched on a peach, a dragonfly, a butterfly and a spider crawl over another peach. Lastly, there’sQuentin Matsys, an ironsmith-turned-Flemish painter in theEarly Netherlandish tradition. He’s looking away, over some tulips at something out of frame.Snijders has added Quinten’s name, place and year of death around his hat, above which stands a toucan with an oversized crab claw of a beak. In the foreground, from right to left: a hand with a shell beneath it points to a hare which follows a huge elephant beetle which, in turn, follows a small lizard. Snijders copied the toucan from Conrad Gessner’s Historiae Animalium, the hare and the fox fromAegidius Sadeler and the beetle and butterfly from JoorisHoefnagel.

Study sheet with drawing examples: portraits, animals, insects.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after Joris Hoefnagel, after Aegidius Sadeler, c. 1640 – c. 1660.

This one is identical to the one above except there’s noSir Anthony van Dyck.Snijders must have added him to the middle peach later. The next print one previous to this.

Study sheet with drawing examples: fruits, animals, insects and hands.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after Joris Hoefnagel, after Aegidius Sadeler, 1610 – 1672.

This is the earlist version of thisSnijders print and it gives us a unique insight into his decision making over 350 years ago. Here there’s no celebrities at all. He likely started with justfive peaches. Later, the 2 cut peaches on the left were transformed into the hairy coconut that housedFrederik III the Wise’s head. Snijders also changed the hand above it into a hillside. He swapped the carnation on the top right for a toucan and covered the nude torso below with tulips.

This was his workflow. Nothing was sacred. If he didn’t like it he’d cover it, change it. He developed these prints using a process similar to a tattoo artist doing complex cover ups. If he didn’t like it anymore he’d simply change it. If there was a gap, he’d fill it. Until finally he reached a complex madness he was happy with or there was no longer any scope for change or gaps to fill.

Study sheet with drawing examples: heads, animals and fruits.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after Raphael, 1610 – 1672.

For a change,Snijders has let some fruit have centre stage. No famous heads obscure them, no insects crawl on them. They are free. In the middle a hero fig sits on it’s leaf, underneath it, a lizard is looking at a second fig which lays cut open. There’s a also a rhinoceros beetle, a caterpillar and a sea turtle which is. At the top left there’s a Madonna with a evil pointed nosed Christ Child (whichSnijders has copied from Raphael) who looks out at us hauntingly. Top right a there’s lapwing flower which probably represents a “nosegay”, a small bunch of flowers which were held under the nose to ward off the evil stinks of the streets. Next to thelapwing flower nosegay, there’s a giraffe. In the middle, a flying insect dive bombs theMadonna and a peacock stingray butterfly swoops over the central fig. Christ is raising an eyebrow in the bottom left corner and between the splayed open fig and the lizard, a moustachioed face looks out at us plaintively.

Study sheet with drawing examples- heads, animals and fruits. Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, 1610 – 1672.

An earlier version of the previous print.Snijders wasn’t happy with this. He later transformed the flower at top right intoRaphael’s Madonna & evil Christ Child and swapped the rear fig for a giraffe.

Study sheet with drawing examples: heads, animals, figures.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after Anthony van Dyck, after Michelangelo, c. 1610 – 1672.

Here, there are three 17th century celebrities staring out at us. At the top left there’s a portrait of Maria Ruthven, lady-in-waiting to England’s Queen Henrietta Maria, and the wife of the artist, Sir Anthony van Dyck. ASnijders grotesque (the hare with horns) is (perhaps) whispering inMaria Ruthven’s ear and she raises aknowing eyebrow. Beneath Maria isthe Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino. Known simply as Raphael, he also stares out at us from behind a shaggy dog. Shaggy dog is in a face off with a hedgehog and a bird with a woman’s head. A siren. Above this little pre-fight scene there’s theFlemish sculptor and architect, Lucas Faydherbe. A key figurein the development of the High Baroque.

The2 figures at top right,Snijders has stolen from Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. There’s a parrot on a tree next to them and a fruit of some kind with it’s large internal seed missing. Finally, at bottom right we have a travelling manwearily resting against a tree holding the reins of his dejected and equally tired donkey.

Study sheet with drawing examples: heads, animals and fruits.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after Raphael, 1610 – 1672.

Two pomegranites, each with a portrait. The pomegranite on the left features a portrait of the founder of Western political philosophy, Plato. The man look out of this strange menagerie at top right is Sir Anthony van Dyck, a Flemish Baroque artist who was England’sleading court painter at the time, after huge success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy. The pomegranite on the right is wearing a portrait of the painter Titian. Around all this various insects animals are crawling and – in the bottom left corner – a man with wings holds a naked lady protectively.

In the middle foreground, beneath the pomegranite portraits, that’s a civet, a small, lean, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa, especially the tropical forests. The best-known civet species is the African civet, Civettictis civetta, which was the main species from which musky scents used in 17th century perfumery was obtained.

Study sheet with drawing examples: heads, torso and animals.
Michael Snijders, after Titian, after Cornelis Cort, 1610 – 1672.

The key celebrity figure here is in the 2 portraits at top left. They show a younger and an older Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), a Dutch painter, stained glass master, printmaker, engraver and woodcut artist. His candle burned fiercely and went out quickly. He died young, falling victim to tuberculosis at just 39. WhenSnijders engraved him for this print over a century later, Van Leyden was super famous, a legend. He inspired and influenced Rembrandt who owned all of his prints.

Next to the youngVan Leyden there’s a portrait of a turbanned “Moorhead”. The Moors were Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Malta during the Middle Ages. Above the Moorhead an huge eagle soars holding a sheep in its talons. To the right of the Moorshead, an exasperatedMary Magdalene is looking to the heavens.In the middle on the left is a wonderful, square-nosed snarling hound with a roaring lion below. Just above the arm of the torso at bottom right there’s a hoopoe, a colourful bird found across Africa, Asia, and Europe, notable for their distinctive “crown” of feathers. Beneath the hoopoe there’s a bird of prey, a hare with many horns, a hermit crab emerging from its shell and on the far right, at the bottom, a squirel contemplates a nut.

Study sheet with drawing examples: eyes, heads and animals.
Michael Snijders, after Adriaen Collaert, after 1608 – before 1660.

The other prints here make this, along with the one below, feel the most ordinary ofSnijders study sheets. Two male faces, 3 eyes, 2 ears, a calf, fox, a chameleon, ahorse’s head.Michael Snijders has added in a man behind a sea monster playing a lute.

Study sheet with drawing examples: hands, feet and a monkey.
Michael Snijders, 1610 – 1672

Feet in Roman sandals and hands. In an empty gapSnijders could resist adding a monkey with a pear.

Study sheet with drawing examples – heads and fighting animals. Michael Snijders, 1610 – 1672.

Heads of children and women. In the middle two pairs of animals are fighting. On the right, a child bears the weight of a heavy globe on his or her back whilst the man above shouts.

Study sheet with drawing examples: centaur, standing figure and heads. Michael Snijders, 1610 – 1672.

At top left a centaur is attacking a well dressed man with a spear whilst holding a lionskin. There are six male heads, the largest of which at bottom left is the legendary Flemish artist and diplomat from the old Duchy of Brabant, a former state of the Holy Roman Empire, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). It’s a younger lookingRubens. He would have been an old man or dead whenSnijders made (or more likely copied) this portrait.

Study sheet with drawing examples: heads and animals.
Michael Snijders, after Melchior Lorck, after Adriaen Collaert, 1610 – 1672

At the top, just left of centre, we can see the long haired head ofAlbrecht Dürer.Snijders has copied the German painter and grand theorist of the Renaissance from a portrait by the Renaissance painter, Melchior Lorch. At the bottom left of frame there’s a puffer fish to the right of which, and between three baby heads (each with 4 circles),Snijders has added a half-fish-half-walrus creation which snarls at a disemodied portrait of a girl. At the bottom on the right a long-necked, bearded man leans into frame, staring angrily and hard at two dogsfighting. Above bearded man, is the head of a shaggy dog faced man with horns sits on a shallow plinth.

Study sheet with drawing examples: mythical creatures and rarities.
Michael Snijders (attributed to), after Hendrick Goltzius, after Arent van Bolten, 1610 – 1672.

This study sheet features “rarities”. Mythical creatures and fantasy monstrosities direct from the long dead mind ofSnijders. With his two leaping hounds at his feet, a soldier whose head sprouts antlers runs in fright from a prancing, half-man-half-horse centaur carrying in it’s arms a damsel in distress. The centaur is in some kind of confrontation (if not a a fight) with a midget who has animal legs and a snake tail. The midget monster is waving a flaming stick and, behind him a lion leaps away. An owl with human legs is, quite understandably scarpering away from this confusing scenario. Above the owl-man’s head is a caption that reads, “Adieu brother”. At the bottom left there’s a basilisk (a cock with a snake for a tail) looking at his reflection in a mirror and there’s (a pair of?) Siamese twins in the bottom right corner. But all this isn’t the main event. Forefront and centre, between the Siamese twins and the snake-tailed chicken, stand two disjointed midgets, one with a monkey face the other with the legs of a dog, fighting it out with swords and shields. One of the Siamese twins is looking away.

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