Melchior d'Hondecoeter was a 17th-century Dutch painter who specialized in birds. He died exactly 313 years ago on this date, at the age of 61. So let's take a look at Melchior d'Hondecoeter's life and his 1683 painting, "Peacocks."
1. Like many artists, Melchior d'Hondecoeter was born into a family of other talented artists. Both his father, Gijsbert, and his grandfather, Gillis, were also established painters specializing in birds. Melchior initially studied under his father but, upon his father's death, took up study under his uncle, Jan Baptist Weenix, a renowned Italianate painter.
2. Despite his family's artistic tendencies, when Melchior was young, his mother and uncle were unsure whether he should be trained as a painter. Supposedly, the young Melchior was extremely religious and had a tendency to pray very loudly.
3. Melchior's early paintings were actually sea and fish scenes, including one entitled, "Tub with Fish," from 1655. He eventually gave in to the family preference for birds, though, and almost all of his other paintings are of birds.
4. Melchior was known for realistic and accurate depictions of birds; some people deemed him even better than his father and grandfather. Yet what really made Melchior's paintings of birds stand out was that he painted the birds as living beings "with passions, joys, fears, and quarrels." One critic went so far as to say, "Hondecoeter displays the maternity of the hen with as much tenderness and feeling as Raphael the maternity of Madonnas."
5. Although most, if not all, of Melchior's paintings are signed, he rarely dated his paintings. The 1905 Catalogue of the Pictures in the Rijks-Museum (pages 162-164) includes copies of his signatures next to the descriptions of the paintings on which they appear.
A larger version of "Peacocks" is available here.
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