The animal painting is a genre that is popular in the late-Middle Ages. The hunt is since antiquity the preferred pastime of the nobility and clergy. They build hunting lodges that are adorned with wall paintings and tapestries dedicated to the iconography of the hunt. In the 16th Century, the genre is outdated, but slowly it comes back to life. Animal paintings and hunting scenes win back their popularity.
Jan van der Straet (1523-1605) is one of the first who breathes new life into the genre with his 28 wall tapestries for Cosimo I de' Medici's villa in Poggio a Caiano (Italy). Moreover, the translated fables of ancient authors such as Aesop and Phaedrus, in which animals are presented, are in vogue. In 17th-century hunting paintings, often a link to the antiquity is made. For example, this deals with the references to Diana, the goddess of the hunt, or the hunt of the Caledonian wild boar.
Also in this genre, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) is one of the renewing forces. Painted hunting trophies are a status symbol because they allude to the possession of expansive hunting grounds. From the animal painting, Rubens makes a dynamic and dramatic hunting scene, in which animals with great demonstrations of power are hunted. Painting living animals requires a specialist's knowledge. Rubens paints thrilling scenes that are often filled with rearing horses and exotic animals such as lions or even hippopotamuses and crocodiles.
Frans Snijders (1579-1657) and Paul de Vos (1595-1678), two specialists in the area of animal painting and who assist Rubens with many works, also leave their mark on the genre. It is Snijders who makes an independent animal painting without human presence from the dramatic hunting scene. An example is the monumental Wild Boar Hunt from the Rockoxhuis collection in Antwerp.
The animal battle, the bird painting and the satirical bird concert are a few of a series of subcategories from animal paintings in demand in the 17th Century. Among others, Snijders and Joannes Fijt (1611-1661) excel in these pieces.