‘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.