Still life with flowers in a glass vase


Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1650 – 1683


till life painting arose and flourished among a group of metropolitan Dutch painters who put on canvas the fine objects of possessions, diversions and the values of an active, engaging community. Dutch still life (stilleven) features not only mundane wealth but quotidian objects of the heart: fruits, meats, and seafood that were the daily bounty of plenty; the tables, baskets, goblets, and vases that survived their use; flowers whose beauty was sustained and shared in a gathered moment. Dutch still life painters concealed and revealed messages in their extraordinary technique. Among them, the least important items we receive are from our own hands. In Dutch still life, the unseen human community possessed the bounty of the natural world and but also viewed how the natural world itself possessed a greater eternal presence. That flowers bloomed renewed and continued an act of ongoing universal and personal mercy. Elevated by the mystic source in the blooms' startling array of colors, textures, places and times, the beauty and its source were a part of the paintings glorious admiration. 17th century Dutch painters specialized and worked in four forms: still life, portraits, landscape, and marine painting. Especially within still life, advanced techniques showed an astounding minute attention to detail. The painting, “Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase,” (n.d.), 21.5 inches high, 14.3 inches wide, was a small canvas for such immense, spectacular detail. Begin at the center, the tightly bundled, softly layered rose petals fold in as they open in delicate perfection in the most exquisite tones of light and shade. The small stem, by highlights and shadow, displays the three dimensional geometry of the sun, along the tiniest thorns. Light creates color, contrast, composition, harmony, texture, and movement, even by its absence. A small colony of ants wander and climb the petals with a lady bug. Two spiders are constructing a web, one dangling from a skein. Other details: dew drops on leaves; the fluid dance of the stamens, the geometry of curves and shapes; the fuzz on seed pods. A snail and flower regard each other. A butterfly alights on top. Inside the vase is a technical tour-deforce: the reflection of a window on the vase's inner surface, seen through the translucence of the water. Flowers and insects include roses, carnations, peonies, wheat, cow parsley, morning glory, narcissus, opium, the semper augustus tulip, sweet pea, dog rose, honeysuckle, hydrangea, anemone, a red admiral butterfly, caterpillars, ants, beetles, a lady bug, spiders and a garden snail.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem grew up in Utrecht, in a family of painters. He was apprenticed to floral still-life artist Balthasar van der Ast. In 1626, he moved to Leiden. There he painted monochrome still lifes employing one or two tints. De Heem moved to Antwerp after 1631, where he concentrated on color, and fruits and flowers. Living mainly in Antwerp, he resided in Utrecht in 1649 and in 1665 -- 1672. Jan Davidsz. de Heem's work was popular with the public and artists. He is considered a Master of the floral still life, and is widely exhibited. His pupils included Abraham Mignon.

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