Flower Still Life

Hans Gillisz. Bollongier1644

Frans Hals Museum

Frans Hals Museum

‘Flowerpots’ is what flower still lifes were apparently disrespectfully called in the seventeenth century. Nonetheless, these little paintings were extremely popular and much sought-after by the artloving public.
This flower still life by Bollongier, the Haarlem specialist in this genre, depicts a pink and red paeony, two tulips, an orange and red lily, a red and white carnation and white primulas. The arrangement of the flowers in the vase looks somewhat unnatural; the large tulip at the back makes the whole thing rather top-heavy. Nevertheless the bouquet is entirely in accordance with the seventeenth-century rules for the art of flower arranging.
According to a treatise by Giovanni Battista Ferrari dating from 1633, a good bouquet is characterized by a compact arrangement in the shape of a cone, with the most beautiful or rarest flower crowning the whole. In this painting the crowning glory is a ‘Semper Augustus’, the emperor among tulips, which in the days of tulip mania could fetch thousands of guilders – and thus is rightly at the top.It is not inconceivable that the
painting evoked thoughts of mortality in the seventeenth-century viewer. The petals of the large tulip are curling and a small petal has already dropped; this tulip – however costly – does not have eternal life.
Moreover, a snail crawls across the table. This is a commonplace creature that reminds man of his place.

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