This charming scene features a shepherd and his animals travelling at dusk. The shepherd, in the left foreground, returns to his smallholding at the end of the day, guiding home his precious herd. The loose depiction of the figure of the shepherd brings him to life despite his face being out of view. The delicately placed flecks of paint form his outreached hands as they hold a shepherd’s crook, with two longer strokes adding the pleasant detail of feathers in his cap. The herd of sheep and cattle are in turn given deliberate character, turning as they walk to look out towards the viewer and present their faces.
As captivating as this group is, the artist has also given due attention to the landscape behind, featuring a farm where a cottage, cart and a woman feeds the chickens. The bold oranges that punctuate the sky give an added warmth to this otherwise dark scene and bring to mind that well-known phrase ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’.
One of a dynasty of Flemish painters, Roelandt was the son of the artist Maerten Savery and the brother of Jacob I (circa 1545–1602), with whom he studied before joining the workshop of Hans Bol (q.v.). He travelled to Paris in 1603 and then moved to Prague in 1604, where he entered the service of Emperor Rudolf II and became acquainted with Aegidius Sadeler, who would later engrave many of his compositions. After Rudolf’s death in 1612 Savery first entered the service of the Emperor’s brother Matthias in Vienna, and then moved between Amsterdam, Prague, Munich and Salzburg, before settling in Utrecht, where he died in 1639.