Against a dark background, in the style of flower painting from the second half of the seventeenth century, Rachel Ruysch composed a lush floral arrangement, including many flowers that would never actually bloom at the same time. Among this array of blossoming and wilting plants, a closer look reveals caterpillars crawling along the stem of a flower and browning leaves riddled with holes made by hungry insects. Such vivid details suggest the fragility of the arrangement, even alluding to the fact that beauty fades and all living things must die.
Ruysch was the daughter of a professor of anatomy and botany, and likely became familiar with plants through him. By age fifteen she was studying with the still-life artist Willem van Aelst. From this background of scientific and artistic studies, she learned to capture the essence of nature in her own flower paintings. The most famous female painter in the Golden Age of Dutch art, Ruysch enjoyed an international reputation over a career that lasted almost seven decades.