Gaspar van den Hoecke
1585 – c. 1648
Croesus before Cyrus
Gaspar van den Hoecke was a Flemish Baroque painter of flower, still-life, small devotional cabinet paintings, and larger historical and religious paintings. In Antwerp he painted much in the style of his contemporary Frans Snyders - big kitchen scenes filled with game, fruit and vegetables were very much to his taste and he produced numerous examples of such pictures. These appear to have disappeared or more likely to have been re-attributed to Snyders and his studio. These big still-life compositions were very popular with the wealthy Burghers of Antwerp and Brussels. He was also clearly influenced by Rubens whose flamboyant style proved so influential both to van den Hoecke and many of his contemporaries.
Gaspar van den Hoecke was the father and teacher both of Robert and Jan van den Hoecke, as well as Justus van Egmont. Little is known of his early life, although he became a pupil of Juliaen Teniers in 1595 and was a member of the Antwerp Guild in 1603. He married Margriet van Leemputte who died in childbirth in 1621, having given him four sons and subsequently Marguerite Musson with whom he had a further three sons.
As told by Herodotus, having defeated King Croesus in battle, Cyrus, depicted here riding a white charger, condemned his enemy to be burned alive. Croesus prayed to the god Apollo, who responded by gathering storm clouds above the pyre to extinguish the flames and thus save Croesus. His eventual fate appears to have been less brutal; he became attached to the Persian court and was later given a governorship in Mesopotamia.
Croesus was the king of Lydia; what is today the western half of Asia Minor. His vast wealth is still legendary today and it is interesting to note in van den Hoecke's picture that he has been stripped of his crown, which lies on the ground nearby, and almost all of his clothes. Croesus is surrounded by fabulously dressed Persians in turbans and furs which further emphasises his fall.
Apart from his wealth Croesus is perhaps best known for his conversation with the Greek statesman Solon who lectures Croesus that good fortune rather than great wealth was the basis of happiness. With the rainclouds appearing above Croesus's head and his rich clothes abandoned, Solon's point seems particularly valid at this moment.
Typical for Gaspar van den Hoecke the richly coloured details of the scene are given a further luminous quality by the copper which in turn has also kept the painting in remarkable condition. The Stas maker's mark on the verso is consistent with that of the Antwerp mark post 1610.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 July 2006, lot 156,
Private Collection, UK.