European Art: 17th-18th Centuries

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Large Bouquet in Gilt-Mounted Wan-Li Vase, c. 1620

Ambrosius Bosschaert I, follower of, possibly Ambrosius Bosschaert II

Dutch, (1573-1621)
Oil on panel
31-1/2 x 21-1/2 in. (80.0 x 54.6 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon
M.1976.10.P
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

This stunning bouquet is fictive. The flowers represented were genuine, but they bloomed in different seasons: lilies and tulips in spring; irises, roses and carnations in summer. The tulip in particular was an extremely recent import for the Dutch Republic, and the flame tulip—three examples of which are shown here—was the most prized and costly, owing to its variegated petals. Bosschaert typically made drawings and watercolors of individual blossoms in the studio and then adapted them to specific compositions. Indeed, one sees these very same blossoms in his other painted bouquets.

Floral still lifes were closely connected to the desire to collect. Their popularity as a subgenre coincides with a rise in consumption, thanks to trade and an expanding economy. A gorgeous posy like this one represents a collection of the rarest and finest flowers, captured at their height. Note the even lighting and the lack of overlap: each flower stands out against the dark background. Emphasizing the presentational quality of this ensemble is by no means an argument for dismissing such a marvelous work. Certainly, patrons of floral still lifes, and of Bosschaert in particular, admired the artfulness of such works and eagerly sought them out.

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