Melchior d’ Hondecoeter’s Fantastic Menagerie

I am currently working on an allegorical self portrait, I chose as my totems the Dodo bird and the Peacock; both represent my temperament  rather well.

In my desire for avian accuracy I immediately turned not  to the works of Audubon or the ever useful Peterson’s ; instead I turned to that Dutch  master of plumed beauty, Melchior d’ Hondecoeter.

Palace of Amsterdam with Exotic Birds

ca. 1670



ca. 1690

Menagerie detail

b. 1636

d. 3rd of April 1695

Initially having focused on the paintings of sea creatures, d’Hondecoeter turned his attention to the painting of birds.

Melchior d’Hondecoeter broke from tradition pretty early  on in his career, for instead of  depicting birds solely as caught game , which had been the rather grisly norm, he depicted them as living beings full of vivacity and delight.

ca.1660 approvimately





Metropolitan Museum of Art


I much prefer this feisty little living squirrel to the admirably painted yet quite dead hare depicted above.

Melchior d’Hondecoeter’s work was well regarded, he was commissioned by William III to paint the royal menagerie at Het Loo Palace.

King William III of England


painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller


Melchior d’ Hondecoeter was also responsible for the following image, clearly a bit of propaganda.

William III’s Lowlands Wars II


Like much of his work, this painting is unsigned; I almost question its authenticity, it lacks the artist’s obvious  delight in depicting fowl.

Upon his death part of Melchior d’ Hondecoeter’s estate included works by that other great painter of birds ( and critters) Frans Snyder (1579-1657).Snyder’s best remember as the artist Ruben’s employed to depict animals within his own paintings had an incredible ability to capture the essence of our furred and feathered neighbors.

It is now wonder that Melchior held his work in such esteem.

The Fable of the Fox and the Heron

Frans Snyder

before 1657

Snyder clearly delighted in birds as the following illustrates.

Concert of Birds

Frans Snyders


Melchior d’Hondecoeter played upon this popular theme himself.

Das Vogelkonzert


As is apparent I am crazy about this “minor” artist, perhaps even considered a mere craftsman in his day; I can only hope to aspire to the feathered magic wrought by Melchior’s studio.

Perhaps when my painting is complete I will have the audacity to post an image.

Until then the Met has put together this really marvelous “Birding” tour of their holdings, highlighting works that feature birds, I hope you enjoy it.

Believe it or not Melchior has a Facebook page, unfortunately it only has 7 followers including this author, I hope my readers will change that.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque


8 Responses to “Melchior d’ Hondecoeter’s Fantastic Menagerie”

  1. I love reading your blog, it is a history lesson every time!
    Love the birds. Funny, they have been peeping into my paintings as of late as well!
    (Pun intended).

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I think I told you before how I admire your work, I can see how birds would be a suitable element to the liveliness of your compositions. I feel just our revisiting these great painters helps all of us who create images. Today I will re-visit my peacock,I made good progress yesterday.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, i always fear they are too dry.

  2. I love the strutting peacock walking by the hunter’s bounty. He recognizes his luck. No one eats peacock, correct?

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      I don’t know, I remember some quasi-historical cookbook of my grandmother that had this elaborate image of a re-created Renaissance feast, the usual boars head, but it also include this gorgeous terrine of peacock with the head, tail, and wings reattached. I too was curious as to eating peafowl, I don’t eat birds at all but was curious as to what it would taste like, chicken, right?

      • I can’t vouch for the taste of peacock, but it was a popular medieval and renaissance dish – more for the look than for the taste, I suspect. Can you imagine it’s irridescent, crowned body at the middle of the royal banqueting table?

        These are wonderful paintings – not only for the image and details, but for the personality of each creature, and their calls you can hear, through the paint and the centuries.

      • babylonbaroque Says:

        I cannot vouch for the taste either, nor do I want to, but I too have seen those images. It must have been quite a spectacle!
        Take care,

  3. Do come and have a look this summer at the Exhibition: Melchior de Hondecoeter painter for grand country houses at Sypesteyn Castle. The place in itself is a jewel, the exhibition contains 16 paintings by Melchior de Hondecoeter, two by his grandfather Gillis, two by his father Gijsbert and two by his cousin Jan Weenix
    Rik van Wegen

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Thank you for the tip, the images are indeed beguiling, the place looks deeply charming.
      Take care,

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