Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


JACOB XAVERY (The Hague 1736 – after 1788)

A Pair of Grisaille Paintings: Zephyr and Flora in Painted Rondels Supported by Putti Floating on Clouds

portrait of Zephyr signed J. Xavery in the lower left

oil on canvas

25 7/8 x 39 ¼ inches          (65.5 x 99.7 cm.)


Private Collection, New York, until the present time


Jacob Xavery was a painter who specialized in trompe l’oeil, flowers, historical scenes, portraits and landscapes.  He was the grandson of the sculptor Albert Xavery.  His father was the sculptor Jan-Baptitse Xavery.  Jacob’s brother was the painter Franciscus Xavery who is best known for his landscapes. [1]  Jacob was a student of Jacob de Wit and Jan van Huysum.  His landscapes reflect the influence of Nicolaes Berchem.  He worked in Amsterdam, Breda and the Hague.  He was the teacher of Dionys van Dongen when he lived in The Hague.  In Amsterdam Jacob painted the portrait of Gerrit Braamcamp an important collector and his patron. [2]  When Braamcamp died in 1769 the artist moved to Paris. [3]  He is also thought to have lived in London for periods of time as he exhibited a pair of Landscapes with Cattle in 1772 at the Free Society of Artists[4] and in 1788 a Bunch of Grapes and Other Fruits at the Royal Academy. [5]

Jacob’s paintings are part of the collections’ of Dulwich, Schwerin, the Hermitage, and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.  In 1966 the Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, Brussels purchased a pair of grisaille allegorical paintings titled La Puissance de la Beauté (nos. 4225 & 4226) for their collection.

Grisaille paintings became popular in the Southern Netherlands from 1730 onwards mainly due to the efforts of Martinus Josephus Geeraerts and Jacob de Wit.  A renewed interest in the antique had been stimulated by excavations at Herculaneum, Paestum and Pompeii from 1738-1756.  These archaeological finds, as well as other examples from antiquity were illustrated, disseminated and popularized through a series of books which eventually led to a taste for neo-classical buildings and interiors. [6]  Jacob Xavery excelled at such works and his bas-reliefs that imitate the visual effects of marble reflect the works of his master Jacob de Wit.

Trompe l’oeils, such as our pair, would have been integrated into the paneling or overall decorative scheme of a room in order to heighten the illusion of faux marble.  In a highly imaginative rendering of the subject the artist has painted Zephyr and Flora as marble busts in rondels supported by putti floating on clouds.  The subject is immediately identifiable by the flowers that spring from the mouth of Zephyr.  Based on Greek and Roman mythology as well as Lucretius and Ovid it is the story of a Greek nymph named Chloris.  The god of the west wind Zephyr abducted Chloris as she was walking in the woods.  He married her and transformed her into Flora the goddess of flowers, which fell within his domain, as the west wind was regarded as the wind of springtime that brought flowers. [7]  Her festival the Floralia began in Rome in 240 or 238 B.C. and was celebrated from April 28th to May 3rd.  It marked the beginning of Spring and featured dancing, drinking and flowers.  Flowers covered the temples, Romans wore colorful clothing instead of their typical white, floral wreaths adorned their hair and offerings of milk and honey were made. [8]

In our pair of paintings Zephyr is portrayed with flowers in his hair and butterfly wings, while his amoretti wear similar wings.  Flora has a wreath of flowers in her hair and around her neck and is flanked by cherubs displaying numerous garlands.  Zephyr’s power is further portrayed with the added whimsical touch of the dark cloudy windswept backgrounds that buffet the putti making their task of supporting the rondels that much harder.



[1] Biographical information taken from George C. Williamson, ed., “Jacob Xavery” in Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, Kennikat Press, Inc., Port Washington, N.Y., volume V, 1964, p. 401 and E. Benezit, “Jacob Xavery” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, Librairie Gründ, Paris, volume 10, 1976, p. 829.

[2] Ibid., and Pieter A. Scheen, “Jacobus Xaverij” in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldande Kunstenaars 1750-1880, Uitgeverij Pieter A. Scheen B.V., ¢s-Gravenhage, 1981, p. 599.  

[3] Ibid. and a print by Reiner Vinkeles after the portrait by Jacob Xavery depicting Gerrit Braamcamp is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (no. P.9081.R).

[4] Algernon Graves, “Jakob Xavery” in The Society of Artists of Great Britain 1760-1791, The Free Society of Artists 1761-1783: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Work from the Foundation of the Societies to 1791, Kingsmead Reprints, Bath, 1969, p. 289.

[5] Algernon Graves, “J. Xavery” in The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Work from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904, S.R. Publishers LTD, Yorkshire, 1970, p. 399.

[6] Harold Osborne, ed., “Neo-Classicism” in The Oxford Companion to Art, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990, p. 768.

[7] James Hull, “Flora” in Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1974, p. 125.

[8] Charles Anthon, “Floralia” in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Harper Brothers, New York, 1875, p. 447.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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