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Work Heron Hunt with Archduke Leopold William

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Hunting for Heron with Archduke Leopold William

© 2005 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Flemish painting

Collange Adeline

The heron hunt is also a political allegory. On the left, on horseback and wearing a hat, is Archduke Leopold-William, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands until 1656; in the background is the capital, Brussels. In the emblematic language of the time, the struggle between heron and falcon symbolizes a struggle of uncertain outcome, favorable here to the heron (Flanders), under attack from French falcons to the south and Dutch ones to the north and still managing to survive.

Falcon hunting

The painting depicts that most aristocratic of activities, falconry. The horseman on the far left is Archduke Leopold William, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, accompanied by two courtiers. Brussels, the archduke's city of residence, can be seen on the horizon behind them. On the right, a hunter runs towards a vicious fight taking place between a heron and two falcons in the middle of the picture. Their struggle is portrayed in extremely naturalistic style. One of the falcons, its back to the ground, claws the air as it faces the heron's violent attack while the other, wings outstretched, ferociously pecks at the heron from behind.

A subtle political allegory

Despite the realistically depicted aerial combat and the naturalism of the birds, we are struck by the disproportionate scale in the composition. The birds are far too large in relation to the picture's other elements, and this is accentuated by their central position. This emphasis on the birds invites us to view see the scene as more than a mere depiction of the noble art of falconry. The explanation for this is found in a book of emblems, Camerarius' Symbolorum et Emblematum. The combat between heron and falcon is used to illustrate the uncertain outcome of battles, in which "it is not rare that he who was on the verge of conquering is conquered." The heron therefore embodies the resistance of the Spanish Low Countries, defended by Leopold William, during the uneven war against France and the Netherlands who were attacking from north and south, just like the falcons who seem to be fighting together. The struggle was still undecided, and all hopes rested on the archduke's victories.

A restricted and delicate palette

Teniers the Younger is famous today above all for his depictions of amusing popular subjects such as village fairs, cabarets and peasant festivities. This picture, painted while he was in the service of Leopold William, shows another aspect of his art. He painted several portraits of the archduke, celebrating his feats of arms and his informed patronage. But here, more subtly elogious, he renews the landscape with figures genre. His palette is restricted and based essentially on grayish hues: the silvery green of the leaves and the gray blue of the sky, echoed by the heron's plumage. Tenier's ample, light treatment creates a delicate shimmering light and demonstrates his talents as a landscape painter.


Klinge Margret (sous la dir. de), David Teniers the Younger : paintings - drawings, Anvers, Snoeck-Ducaju, 1991

Technical description

  • David TENIERS II (Antwerp, 1610 - Brussels, 1690)

    Hunting for Heron with Archduke Leopold William

  • H. 0.82 m; W. 1.20 m

  • Collection of Louis XVI (acquired in Paris in 1784)

    INV. 1887

  • Paintings

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Additional information about the work

Signed: D. TENIERS.F.