Snyders holds an influential position in the history of still-life painting. After training in Antwerp, the artist visited Rome and Milan. Returning to his native city, he was employed by Rubens, executing still-life elements and animals in the latter’s paintings. During the second decade of the seventeenth century, Snyders produced dense, richly complex breakfast pieces and still lifes, as well as market scenes and hunting scenes that combine a Flemish decorative sense of surface design and sumptuous display with a Dutch naturalism of texture. Esteemed as a painter of animals, Snyders also collaborated with such other artists as Jordaens and Van Dyck at different times in his career. His patrons included Philip IV of Spain.
In Snyders’s late works, the brushwork became more vivid and freer. Here, for all the subject’s directness, there is a remarkable sophistication in the continuous vertical oval organization, the balance of colours introduced by the fruit, lobster and carcasses, and the interplay, both psychological and spatial, of the two monkeys. In the seventeenth century, grapes – a common element in his paintings – were seldom eaten fresh from the vine but were cooked in sauces, dried as raisins or made into wine. The vine leaves that enliven the composition inform us that this is an autumn scene. While Snyders’s still lifes are generally considered secular and appealed to an affluent market, they undoubtedly contain moralistic allusions: the very abundance of the materials presented evokes the sin of gluttony and excess; and monkeys were frequently associated with evil, owing to their mischief and thievery.