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Gerard Seghers

Flemish, 1591 - 1651

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Gerard Seghers, who was baptized in the Antwerp Cathedral on 17 March 1591, was registered in 1603, at the age of twelve, as an apprentice in Saint Luke's Guild in Antwerp.[1] Although his teacher is not known with certainty, early sources indicate that he studied with Hendrik van Balen (c. 1594-1632) and Abraham Janssens (c. 1575-1632).[2] He became an independent master in 1608 at the age of seventeen. It is entirely possible that he worked with Peter Paul Rubens for a period of time after that master had returned to Antwerp from Italy in December 1608.

In January 1611 Seghers became a member of the Jesuit Confraternity of Bachelors (Sodaliteit van de bejaerde Jongmans) in Antwerp, an organization with which he maintained close relations throughout his life. He appears to have traveled to Italy shortly after joining the Confraternity, as sources mention a "Gerardo, pittore fiammingo," probably Seghers, living with other foreign artists in various locations in Rome during the 1610s. One of Seghers' earliest biographers, Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688), notes that in Rome Seghers studied the works of Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622), an important follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Seghers adapted Manfredi's style of painting, with its emphasis on half-length figures illuminated with pronounced contrasts of light and dark, and also chose his subject matter, card-playing soldiers and instrument-playing musicians.[3] During these years he also seems to have painted copies of Italian paintings for the Antwerp art dealers Pieter and Anton Goetkint. Probably due to the patronage of Cardinal Zapata y Mendoza, a Spaniard living in Rome, Seghers traveled to Spain shortly before 1620, where he purportedly was active at the court of King Philip III (1578-1621).

With the end of the Twelve Years' Truce (1609-1621) fast approaching, Seghers returned to Antwerp in the fall of 1620, where he assisted Rubens the following year in the decoration of the Jesuit church. It is possible that Seghers traveled to Utrecht around 1625 to meet with Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), an artist who shared his interest in nocturnal scenes in Caravaggio's style and whom he probably had met in Rome.[4] Nevertheless, during the 1620s Seghers gradually abandoned his earlier style and developed a manner of painting that reflected Rubens' powerful influence. His associations with Rubens continued until the mid-1630s, when he assisted the older master in the decorations for the Triumphal Entry of Cardinal Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp in 1635. In 1637 he was named court painter to Ferdinand.

Seghers, who married Catharina Wouters in 1621, was apparently very active in communal life. Beyond his involvement with the Jesuits, he was a member of the rhetoricians' chamber, De Violieren, and the Guild of the Romanists, which named him dekan in 1637. As a member in good standing of Saint Luke's Guild, he was named dekan in 1645. He was also active as an art dealer. At his death in 1651 he was quite wealthy, the owner of a large home and an extensive collection of paintings. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

[1] Biographical information is taken from Dorothea Bieneck, Gerard Seghers (1591-1651). Leben und Werke des Antwerpener Historienmalers, Lingen, 1992: 14-29.

[2] Jean Baptiste Descamps, La Vie des peintres flamands, allemands et hollandois, 4 vols., Paris, 1753-1763: 1:386 (reprint Geneva, 1972), only mentions Van Balen. Franz Joseph Van den Branden, Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool, Antwerp, 1883: 880, mentions only Janssens. In Het jonstich versaem der Violieren, ed. Fernand Donnet, Antwerp, 1907: 138-139, both Van Balen and Janssens are mentioned.

[3] Joachim von Sandrart, Joachim von Sandrarts Academie der Bau-, Bild-, und Mahlerey-Künste von 1625, ed. A.R. Peltzer, Munich, 1925: 170.

[4] Van Honthorst was in Rome from 1616 to 1620. Although no documents confirm that Seghers traveled to Utrecht, such a trip seems probable. Not only was Seghers apparently absent from Antwerp in 1625 and 1626 but he also seems to have met his later biographer, Joachim von Sandrart, who was Van Honthorst's student in Utrecht during those years, while he was still painting in a Caravaggist style.

Artist Bibliography

Branden, Franz Joseph van den. Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool. Antwerp, 1883: 879-885.
Sandrart, Joachim von. Joachim von Sandrarts Academie der Bau-, Bild, -und Mahlerey-Künste von 1675. Leben der berühmten Maler, Bildhauer und Baumeister. Edited by Alfred R. Peltzer. Abridged ed. Munich, 1925: 312.
Bieneck, Dorothea. Gerard Seghers (1591-1651). Leben und Werk des Antwerpener Historienmalers. Lingen, 1992.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 223.

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