New Biographical Information about Peter Snayers (1592-1667) and the Sodality of the Bachelors
Dr. Leen Kelchtermans
In the seventeenth century, the Antwerp-born painter Peter Snayers (1592-1667), known for his panoramic battle scenes, was extremement bien renommez.1 In Het Gulden Cabinet vande edel vry schilder const (1661) artist-biographer Cornelis De Bie devoted a six-page laudatory poem to him. He praised the precision and lifelike quality of Snayers’ works, even though Snayers had never accompanied an army or set foot on a battlefield.
The master excelled above all in his large-scale topographical battle scenes, in which he depicted contemporary military feats with remarkable accuracy. Striking examples include the Siege of Armentières and the Siege of Dixmude in The Phoebus Foundation’s collection. To this day, Snayers is rightly regarded as one of the most important baroque battle painters.2
In 1612, Snayers enrolled as a master painter in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp.3 He studied under Sebastiaen Vrancx (1573-1647) who was principal dean the same year. Since Snayers’ enrolment as an apprentice was not recorded in the Liggeren (the Guild’s archives), his 1612 registration was considered the oldest known biographical detail about the artist, apart from his baptismal certificate. It was recently discovered that Peeter Snaers was already registered as a member of the Antwerp Sodality of the Bachelors (Sodaliteit der Bejaarde Jongmans) in September 1611.4 This discovery sheds new light on Snayers’ biography, as well as that of his brother Lodewijk. Furthermore, it reveals the extent to which this religious association also provided an opportunity for Antwerp artists to meet.
Sodality of the Bachelors
Following the example of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded in 1563 in the Jesuit College in Rome, the Antwerp Jesuits also founded several confraternities dedicated to Mary, the so-called Marian Sodalities.5 The first was founded by Franciscus Costerus SJ in 1585, shortly after the end of Protestant rule, when the city on the Scheldt was seized by the Spanish governor-general Alexander Farnese. Its creation was part of the Jesuits’ fierce battle against heresy and their vigorous approach to firmly establishing the Catholic faith in society. The Antwerp sodality was also dedicated to the Mission of Our Lady and was extremely successful. Most of the members, or sodales, were clergymen and prominent citizens. Because of the elitist character of the first sodality and the broad apostolate the Jesuits had in mind, new Marian sodalities soon sprang up that were dedicated to the religious support of a specific population group. There was a sodality for students of the Antwerp Jesuit College and one for the Latinists who clung on to Latin as the language of instruction. The other sodalities opted to preach in Dutch, except for the Sodalité de la Vierge Marie entre les Wallons, founded in 1610, which chose French. Furthermore, there was a sodality for children, one for married men and one for unmarried middle-class young men aged at least eighteen (i.e. adults) who, as the articles of association explicitly stated, did not study (metter daet de studiën niet en hanteren). 6 The latter sodality – the Sodality of the Bachelors – was founded in 1608 by Guillaume De Pretere SJ and was officially christened the Sodaliteyt der Bejaerde Jongmans or Sodaliteyt van Onse Lieve Vrouwe Gheboorte.
Like the other Marian sodalities, the Sodality of the Bachelors was founded to support its members’ Catholic faith. To make it easier for them, De Pretere compiled a guide: Handtboexken der Sodaliteyt oft Broederschap vande H. Maeghet Maria inghestelt inde Soci. Jesu (Guide of the Sodality or Confraternity of the Holy Virgin Mary established in the Society of Jesus), which was first printed in 1611. It paints a good picture of how things were organised in a Marian sodality in Antwerp. Each confraternity was spiritually guided by a Jesuit priest – in the early years of the Sodality of the Bachelors this was De Pretere himself – who also supervised the administrators (officialen).7 At the head of the Sodality was the prefect. He was supported by two assistants, a secretary, a deputy secretary and a treasurer. Furthermore, twelve board members (consulteurs) were elected each financial year. In order to become a member, the bachelor (women were not allowed in any of the Marian sodalities) had to first profess the Catholic faith in front of witnesses and say a general confession. On the day of his official ontfanghenisse (when he was received into the sodality), he had to – if he wanted to enjoy the indulgences of the Sodality – confess once more, receive the Eucharist and recite the Sodality’s prayer for all the members.8 The sodales were expected to pray the Rosary every day, insofar as possible (soo verre het moghelijck is), to read the Ave Maris Stella every morning and to read the Salve Regina every evening, among other things.9 They were also advised to diligently embark on Godt-vruchtige ende Christelijcke oeffeningen (devout Christian exercises).10 On Sunday, the Sodality would meet for an hour and discuss gheestelijcke saken (spiritual matters). On the first Sunday of the month, confessions were made and the sodales received the Eucharist – as on certain public holidays. The officialen were allowed to sit at the Lord’s table more often than the others (wat dickwijlder dan d’andere). 11 All members were expected to attend meetings without fail and could receive spiritual guidance in return, especially at difficult times. If a member was ill, he was visited by his fellow sodales. On his deathbed, the whole sodality was present during the Anointing of the Sick, and when he died, all the members accompanied his coffin to the church and carried it to the grave, creating the necessary social atmosphere.12
The Sodality of the Bachelors was a close-knit association that offered religious and social support and status. This was true of all Marian sodalities. With their large number of members from the elite and well-to-do middle class – in 1664, the Marian confraternities, except for those of the Jesuit College, counted about 3,800 members in total – they also had a considerable impact on social life in the city on the Scheldt.13 On important public holidays they organised grand ceremonies with impressive processions that were visible and accessible to the city’s entire population. The sodalities grew into powerful and prestigious associations, which in 1623, could afford an impressive building, the Sodality (Sodaliteit) on today’s Hendrik Conscience Square. Nowadays, it is part of the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, which preserves the Register der inschrijvingen in de Sodaliteit der meerderjarige jongmans onder den titel Geboorte van O.-L. Vrouwe, te Antwerpen (Register of Enrolments in the Sodality of Unmarried Men of Age under the Title ‘Birth of Our Lady’, in Antwerp).
At the beginning of the new financial year, the register listed the Sodality’s officialen and the total number of members. It also noted how many sodales had died, joined the Jesuit Order, left or married – and thus forfeited their membership. In 1611, the year Peter Snayers enrolled, the Sodality had 268 members.14 This took into account the fifteen who married, nine who had entered the Jesuit Order and sixteen who had left. Since only numbers were noted, without any names, it is impossible to establish for sure when Snayers abandoned the Sodality. It is certain, however, that he was no longer allowed to be a member from 25 September 1618, because that’s when he married Anna Schut.15
Snayers may have been a member for about seven years – from 1611 to 1618. During this period, several fellow artists were listed in the register. Among others, portrait specialist Cornelis De Vos and architect Deodat Van der Mont were consulteurs in May 1614, still life painter Hieronymus Francken II in 1618.16 Painter of religious scenes Arnout Vinckenborch became a member in February 1613, flower painter Daniël Seghers in March 1614, church interior painter Peter Neefs I in November 1615 (Ill. 9) and the brother of Hieronymus Francken II, Ambrosius II, in October 1617.17 Book printer Martinus Nutius III and art dealer Chrysostomus Van Immerseel were registered in July 1612: the first as a member, the second as a consulteur.18 Therefore, it seems likely that in his early career, Snayers was able to make many useful contacts not only through the Guild of St Luke but also through the Sodality.
The Snayers brothers’ network
Peter Snayers probably came into contact with the Sodality of the Bachelors through his eldest brother Lodewijk (1589-after 1655). Lodewijc Snaers already joined in February 1609 and held important positions in the Sodality.19 In 1621, 1623 and 1635 he was elected board member and in 1625, 1628, 1632, 1633 and 1636 he was assistant to the prefect. Twice, in 1626 and 1637, he held the position of prefect.20 Like his brother, it is not known exactly when he left the Sodality.
Again, the number of artists who joined during the years Lodewijk Snayers was active in the Sodality is quite extraordinary. Among others, the engravers Gillis Van Schoor (December 1618), Boëtus Adamsz. Bolswert (January 1620) and Paulus Pontius (September 1627) enrolled.21 The same applies to the publisher Joannes Cnobbaert (February 1619), sculptors Andries De Nole (December 1620) and Servaes Cardon (August 1628) and the painters Paul De Vos (June 1619), Jan Brueghel II (October 1621), Theodoor Rombouts (February 1625), Balthasar Courtois (consulteur in 1626) (Ill. 10), Willem Van Haecht II (May 1627), Abraham Van Diepenbeeck (November 1627), Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert (August 1628), Willem Panneels (December 1628), Philip Fruytiers (September 1630) and Jean Baptiste Bonnecroy (July 1636).22
Direct connections of Lodewijk Snayers’ brother Peter also registered during that period. His pupil Henricus Van Spanien (Spaignien), who became a master in the Guild of St Luke in 1625, enrolled as a member in September 1627.23 Anthonius van Dyck enrolled a year later, in May 1628.24 Anthony Van Dyck and Peter Snayers knew each other well. Van Dyck had painted Snayers’ portrait, which was published in the Icones principum virorum (Iconography, 1645-1646).25 On 27 May 1630, the portraitist even entrusted Snayers with the task of collecting outstanding debts in his name in Brussels, as well as his annual salary of 250 guilders, allocated by Archduchess Isabella.26 The fact that Van Dyck entrusted the battle painter with this important errand indicates the two masters shared a strong relationship of trust. Between 1629 and 1632, they may also have worked together on the equestrian portrait of Albert de Ligne, now housed in Holkham Hall in Norfolk.27
These connections with artists undoubtedly served Snayers’ brother Lodewijk well. Although not much is known about his life, he appears to have been a merchant with an extensive international network. In 1625-1626, he had contacts in Lille, in 1635 in Cologne and in 1636 in Amsterdam and Italy, where he was appropriately called Luiggi.28 However, we do not know for sure which goods he actually sold. The fact that they were possibly artistic items can be deduced from his plea on 9 December 1627 in favour of the merchant Melchior de Aguire in Paris regarding an embroidered Ecce Homo.29 In 1637, when he became prefect of the Sodality for the second time, Lodewijk Snayers registered in the Antwerp Guild of Merchants (meerseniersgilde).30 Shortly after, in 1638-1639, he paid ten guilders to cover the annual fees and meal of the Guild of St Luke, but left in 1640-1641.31
It seems plausible that Lodewijk Snayers sometimes traded in artistic objects since he was able to establish many contacts with artists who were also members of the Sodality. His ties with the Guild of St Luke were strengthened through his brother Peter. When the latter moved to Brussels in 1628, Lodewijk could still count on his other brother Eduard (1591-after 1661). He became a master painter in 1617 and in 1632-1633 was even elected dean of the Guild of St Luke.32 In 1621, he married Margriet Van Spanien who was probably related to Peter Snayers’ pupil Henricus.33 On 1 June 1636 – the year Eduard also registered in the merchants’ guild – he got married a second time, to Maria Ruckers. She was the daughter of Johannes Ruckers, a descendant of the famous Antwerp dynasty of harpsichord manufacturers, who were also associated with the Guild of St Luke. Although their father Louis, who was a city messenger by profession, had little to do with the arts, Peter Snayers and his brothers managed to build up an impressive network among Antwerp’s artistic milieu.
No connections, no career
The discovery of Peter Snayers’ registration in the Antwerp Sodality of the Bachelors in September 1611, not only supplements the battle painter’s biography. It also helps explain his established position in Antwerp’s artistic milieu, and that of his brother-merchant Lodewijk. Lodewijk Snayers played an important role in the Sodality especially between 1621 and 1637. The fact that many members of the Guild of St Luke – publishers, engravers, painters, sculptors and art dealers – also became members of this confraternity shows how seventeenth-century associations were thriving in the city on the Scheldt. After all, a strong social network was very important at a time when there was no government safety net. The network was not only shaped by family ties but also through professional and religious associations, as illustrated by the case of brothers Peter, Lodewijk and Eduard Snayers.
- Caption of Peter Snayers’ portrait print in C. De Bie, Het Gulden Cabinet vande edel vry schilder const […], Antwerp, 1661: 220-225, especially 221.
- For the first systematic oeuvre study of Peter Snayers, see L. Kelchtermans, Geschilderde gevechten, gekleurde verslagen. Een contextuele analyse van Peter Snayers’ (1592-1667) topografische strijdtaferelen voor de Habsburgse elite tussen herinnering en verheerlijking, 3 vols., doctoral thesis, KU Leuven, 2013; L. Kelchtermans, Attack on Travellers. Peter Snayers (1592-1667) and the Art of Warfare, Phoebus Focus 7, Antwerp, 2022. See also R. Sennewald & P. Hrnčiřík, Pieter Snayers. Battle Painter. 1592-1667, Berlin, 2018 with electronic supplement from April 2020.
- P.F. Rombouts & T. Van Lerius, De Liggeren en andere historische archieven der Antwerpsche Sint-Lucasgilde, onder zinspreuk ‘Wt ionsten versaemt’, vol. 1, Antwerp, [1864-1876]: 485.
- Antwerp, Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library (AHCHL), Register der inschrijvingen in de Sodaliteit der meerderjarige jongmans onder den titel Geboorte van O.-L. Vrouwe, te Antwerpen, [1608-1772]: fol. 8v. The manuscript with signature B 10468 can be consulted online at https://dams.antwerpen.be/asset/bXRAWwvpANPIbHMPDMA2F1Pe.
- A.K.L. Thijs, ‘Notities voor een studie van de Antwerpse 17de-eeuwse Suffragia’, De Gulden Passer, 61-63 (1983-1985): 562-568, 572.
- Thijs 1983-1985: 565.
- G. De Pretere, Handtboexken der Sodaliteyt oft Broederschap vande H. Maeghet Maria inghestelt inde Soci. Jesu, Antwerp, 1620: 42, 50. This copy is kept in the Library of the Ruusbroec Institute (University of Antwerp, signature RG 3043 H 16).
- De Pretere 1620: 50-51.
- De Pretere 1620: 43-44.
- De Pretere 1620: 38.
- De Pretere 1620: 36-37.
- De Pretere 1620: 39-40.
- Thijs 1983-1985: 567-568.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 8r.
- L. Kelchtermans, ‘Portret van een zeventiende-eeuwse schildersvrouw: Anna Schut, huisvrouw en weduwe van Peter Snayers’, Oud Holland, 126, 4 (2013): 178, 191, note 10.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 13r, 19v.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 11v, 12v, 15r, 18v.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 10r-v. See also F. Olthoff, De boekdrukkers, boekverkoopers en uitgevers in Antwerpen sedert de uitvinding der boekdrukkunst tot op onze dagen, Antwerp, 1891: 77.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 2r.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 23v, 26r, 29r, 30v, 33v, 39v, 41r, 45r, 47r, 48v.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 20r, 22r, 31r.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 20r, 23r, 28r-v, 30v, 31r, 32r-v, 33r, 34r, 36v, 46v. The registration of Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert (Thomas Willeborts) may shed new light on the year of his birth, which is usually cited as c.1613/1614. Since new members of the Sodality had to be at least eighteen years old, the year of his birth is probably around 1610.
- Rombouts-Van Lerius [1864-1876]: vol. 1, 566, 637-638; AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 31r.
- AHCHL, Register [1608-1772]: fol. 32v.
- Kelchtermans 2019: 12-13, 29.
- Antwerp, Felixarchief (AFA), Notariaat, Notary Lucas De Pieters, N#945, dated 27 May 1630, also published in: E. Duverger, Antwerpse kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw, vol. 3, Brussels, 1987: 203.
- The motley group of horsemen in the background is highly evocative of Snayers’ style and colour palette. See also G. Martin, ‘Review of “Van Dyck. The Complete Paintings”’, The Burlington Magazine, 147 (2005): 118-120; Kelchtermans 2013: vol. 1, 38.
- Kelchtermans 2013: vol. 1, 32 note 118.
- AFA, Notariaat, Notary A. Borremans, N#283, dated 9 December 1627; also published in Duverger 1987: 88-89.
- AFA, Gilden en Ambachten, Letterboeck van het hooftAmbacht der Meersche, GA#4242, dated 1637.
- Rombouts-Van Lerius [1864-1876]: vol. 2, 106, 126.
- Rombouts-Van Lerius [1864-1876]: vol. 1, 525, 538; Idem, vol. 2, 39.
- For Eduard Snayers’ biography, see Kelchtermans 2013: vol. 1, 30-32.