As a child, Roelandt Savery moved to Haarlem from the southern Netherlands. By 1591 he was probably studying with his brother Jacob and the artist Hans Bol in Amsterdam. For much of his career Savery traveled widely, working for Rudolf II in Prague and then Emperor Matthias, before settling in Utrecht in 1619.
The nearly ten years Savery worked for Rudolf II, beginning about 1603, were decisive. He traveled in Prague, Bohemia, and to the Tyrol, where he drew mountain scenery. These drawings provided source material for the rest of his career. While Savery's paintings recall Jan Brueghel the Elder's works, Savery's style is more archaic. He also incorporated the exotic animals that he studied closely in Rudolf II's menagerie. He must have even seen a now-extinct dodo bird, for it appears in one of his pictures.
Savery's works played important roles in the development of several genres: floral still lifes, paintings of cows and other animals, cityscapes, and landscapes. His mountain scenes with precipitous rocks and waterfalls influenced Dutch landscape painters such as Allart van Everdingen, Herman Saftleven the Younger, and Jacob van Ruisdael. According to biographer Arnold Houbracken, Savery died insane.