'animals in brazil' by frans post, exhibited at rijks museum in amsterdam

'animals in brazil' by frans post, exhibited at rijks museum in amsterdam

frans post
animals in brazil exhibition
rijksmuseum, philips wing
amsterdam, the netherlands



frans post is a 17th century dutch artist whose recently been a subject of interest after a collection of 34 unidentified animal sketches has been discovered at the noord-hollands archief in haarlem by alexander de bruin — head curator of the topographic-historical atlas department. the rijksmuseum in amterdam is publicly exhibiting the 34 drawings for the first time, along several paintings of the brazilian landscape by frans post and a dozen stuffed animals that were brought in by the naturalis biodiversity center in leiden.



from october 7 2016 to january 8 2017, the ‘frans post. animals in brazil’ exhibition is displayed at the rijksmuseum, in the philips wing —  organized in collaboration with naturalis biodiversity center in leiden and the noord-hollands archief in haarlem.

‘jaguar’ (cat.no.3) / noord-hollands archief, haarlem
image courtesy of rijksmuseum



what brought frans post to alexander de bruin’s attention was the content of the drawings, which mostly illustrated brazilian animals, and the fact that they dated back to the period when the artist visited the country. indeed in 1636, he traveled to brazil under the request of johan maurits of nassau, the governor of the dutch colony during that period. nassau assembled a group of artists and scientists, among them post, to sketch out and record the native landscape, fauna and flora of the country — which ultimately influenced the artist’s works later on.

‘moustached guenon’ (cat.no.26) / noord-hollands archief, haarlem
image courtsey of rijksmuseum



the recently discovered collection includes twenty-four gouache/watercolor drawings, and ten graphite sketches of which nine are uncolored versions of the painted ones. given how unexpected the whole situation was, de bruin began comparing those forgotten drawings with frans post’s latest paintings to confirm that the thirty four illustrations were indeed the artist’s work. the first and clearest proof of this connection was the presence of one particular brazilian animal in frans post’s painting ‘view of the river sao francisco, brazil, with a capybara (1636) — exhibited at the rijksmuseum. this species is found twice with, the same graphical representation, in the discovered pile: once painted in gouache and once sketched out in graphite.

georg marcgraf: ‘captaincy of sergipe del rey’ (1643), details added after frans post / recife, insituto ricardo brennand

image courtsey of rijksmuseum



one peculiar characteristic that links all thirty four drawings is the technique of representation used by the artist. in fact, all animals were drawn in either two positions: standing or lying down. but what puzzles scholars most is whether or not the species were alive at the time they were drawn; many illustrations such as the squid, opossum, and sloth — among others — are depicted in a dead state.

‘view of the river, sao francisco, brazil, with a capybara’ (1639)/ musée du louvre, paris
image courtsey of rijksmuseum



the 17th century witnessed many artists purposefully creating rigid depictions of real-life objects; this approach was born out of a desire to be as objective and scientific with the drawing technique in order to create a universal image that can be used many times. this particular style pays careful attention to details (color, texture, size, scale etc.) and allows artists to represent nature’s fauna and flora as truthfully as they can. based on those criteria, this 17th century artistic style seems like an earlier version of naturalism — a 19t century movement which is based on the accurate representation of details and the belief that every event has a natural or rational cause behind it.

‘neon flying squid with its tentacles spread’ (cat.no.20) / noord-hollands archief, haarlem
image courtesy of rijksmuseum



therefore, whether the animals were dead or alive at the time of observation, scholars and researchers assume that frans post consciously chose this particularly strict style of drawing — which dominated 17th century way of thinking and working. on the other hand, it has been already established that the governor of the dutch colony in brazil erected a museum that contained a range of stuffed animals — native to southern america. so it is fair to suppose that the ‘dead’ fauna illustrated in the discovered collection might originate from the species exhibited at the museum.

‘white-eared opposum’ (cat.no.13) / noords-hollands archief, haarlem
image courtsey of rijksmuseum

‘sloth’ (cat.no.5) / noord-hollands archief, haarlem
image courtesy of rijksmuseum

‘sloth’ (cat.no.6) / noord-hollands archief, haarlem
image courtesy of rijksmuseum

exhibition space for frans post’s ‘animals in brazil’
image © olivier middendorp

capybara stuffed model
image © olivier middendorp

stuffed jaguar exhibited
image © designboom

rijks museum entrance, amsterdam
image © designboom



about the artist:


frans post was born in haarlem in 1612, into a family of four children. his father jan jansz. post was a stained-glass painter from leiden, married to francijntje pietersdr.verbraken. before his expedition to brazil in 1636, very few artworks of the artist were known of. the view of the island of itamarca, brazil is his earliest surviving painting — dating back to 1637.  furthermore, it is unsure where and how frans post has been trained to become an artist. scholars speculate that it was probably the landscape painter pieter de molijin (1595-1661) who has taken part in his training — among others who surely influenced his professional growth. after seven years of a unique artistic experience in brazil, frans post returned to holland in 1644 and resumed his life as a painter where he became a member of the guild of st. luke in 1646. on february 17 1680, frans post took his last breath — outliving the rest of the exceptional members of the group who worked alongside johan maurits during their expedition to brazil.



  • Dear Lea Zeitoun, Thanks for your lovely article. Just one comment: you wrote “a team of scolars” has done the investigation. This however is not the case. It has really been Alexander de Bruin’s very own painstaking research, identifying the work as of Frans Post and ruling out other artists. Which of course is not diminishing the fact the Rijksmuseum / Master drawings /dr. Jane Turner have been very extremely supportive regarding the chance to have this exhibition and publication.

    Inger G. says:

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