Thomas Willeboirts (Flemish, 1614-1654)
Venus and Adonis, n.d.
Oil on canvas 67 in. x 46 in. (170.18 cm x 116.84 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection1872.418
Thomas Willeboirts was born in the town of Bergen-op-Zoom in the southern Netherlands but spent most of his working life in Antwerp. From 1628, he was in the city studying under Gerard Seghers, one of the painters who brought the tenebrist style of Caravaggio to the Low Countries. In 1637, he became a citizen and a master in the painter’s guild, after which he visited Germany, Spain, and Italy in a three-year study trip. During his time in Spain, Willeboirts is thought to have been one of the many artists who collaborated with Peter Paul Rubens on the decoration of the Torre de la Parada, a hunting retreat for Philip IV, though nothing survives of his work there. In 1641, the Stadhouder Frederik Hendrik of Orange, a major patron in the Northern Netherlands, sponsored his return to the Low Countries.
For the next six years, Frederik Hendrik kept him busy with seventeen canvases depicting subjects drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, including Venus and Adonis, the subject of the painting shown here. In his work under Frederik Hendrik, Willeboirts shows the influence of Rubens’s pupil Anthony van Dyck. This patronage continued after Frederik Hendrik’s death in 1647 through his widow Amalia van Solms. The artist, whose production included cartoons for tapestries and print designs, died in 1654.