Cornelis Schut was born in Antwerp in 1597. After working for some time in the workshop op Peter Paul Rubens, his teacher, he became a member of the guild of St Luke in 1618. Between 1624 and 1627 he lived in Rome, where he was one of the founding members of the Bentvueghels, a society of Flemish and Dutch artists who worked in Rome. His nickname or “bentnaam” was Brootsack (bread bag). In 1627-1628 the artist was in Florence, where he designed tapestries for the Arrazeria Medicea, the tapestry factory founded by Cosimo I de Medici. In the early 1630’s he returned to Antwerp.
In 1635 he collaborated on the decorations for the royal entry of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand in Antwerp and Ghent; the whole project was overseen by his former master Rubens. Schut collaborated on other projects as well, with artists such as Gaspar de Crayer and Theodoor Rombouts. He was commissioned for many altarpieces in churches and monasteries across the Southern Netherlands, but also abroad, such as in Cologne. In the Antwerp cathedral of Our Lady he painted the ceiling decoration of the dome, which depicts the Assumption of Mary. Stylistically, Schut was influenced by his contemporary Abraham Janssens, as well as by several Italian painters, such as Guercino and Guido Reni. Although he borrowed some motifs from his master Rubens, the latter’s stylistic influence on Schut was limited.
The present work depicts the myth of Apollo and the nymph Daphne, as recounted by many authors in antiquity. Eros, having been mocked by Apollo, struck the god with a golden arrow, while he shot Daphne with a leaden one. Thus, Apollo fell madly in love with Daphne, while she abhorred him. Apollo followed her around everywhere, while she tried to flee from him. Eventually, Apollo caught up with her, and when he could almost touch her, she called upon her father, the river god Peneus, to change her form, in order to be rid of her persistent admirer. Upon hearing this, he changed her into a laurel tree. Apollo used his powers to render her ever green; up to this day, the leaves of the bay laurel tree do not decay.
Cornelis Schut has depicted the exact moment when Apollo catches up with Daphne and touches her; she has already started to sprout branches from her head and arms, while Eros floats above them. A number of Olympic gods, among them Peneus and Neptune, looks on.