“[…] when winter approaches, covering everything in ice, I take pleasure in the view – and in my imagination even in the scent – of flowers, if not real ones then the artificial kind found in the painting.” In 1606 Jan Brueghel the Elder, theson of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted the earliest of his surviving still lifes of flowers (Milan, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana) for the author of the above words, the archbishop of Milan, Federigo Borromeo (1564–1631). The painter spent many years in Italy and remembered to the end of his life the fruitful patronage of this important collector, who also founded the Ambrosiana. Flowers in a Wooden Vessel was painted for Archduke Albert VII, the sovereign regent of the Spanish Netherlands, and became one of the most famous floral still lifes in European art. The grand format, the perfect painting technique and the highly successful composition make it a characteristic piece for an artcollection of the time. However, the references usually found in floral still lifes to the transitoriness of all earthly things occur only incidentally: a few of theflowers that have fallen are wilted or have been damaged by insects. The artist has disregarded the fact that the plants included in his painting flower at various times of the year. Here they all bloom at once, a situation otherwise found only in the “eternal spring” of paradise. In a letter written to Milan in 1608, Brueghel noted that such flowers would be “far too costly” to “have them at home. […]Thus I was in Brussels to paint several flowers […] from life”. Creating a legend, he suggests that his still lifes were not only based on real plants but in somecases even painted outdoors. This, however, would not have been permitted by the technical demands of oil painting; more likely Brueghel was working from graphic reproductions created during the new revival of botany. Thus his description of his method is in keeping with the “artistically staged naturalness” that contemporary art theory expected of a floral still life. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: Flowers in a Wooden Vessel
  • Creator: Jan Brueghel the Elder
  • Date Created: 1606/1607
  • Style: Flemish
  • Provenance: Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
  • Physical Dimensions: w730 x h980 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 570
  • Artist Biography: Called "Velvet Brueghel" for his skill at painting rich and delicate textures, Brueghel was the second generation in a dynasty of Flemish painters. Born in Brussels and trained by his grandmother, Brueghel was celebrated in his own time, becoming dean of the Antwerp painters' guild by 1602. He traveled widely throughout Europe. During a three-year trip to Italy in the mid-1590s, he gained the patronage of Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, who delighted in Brueghel's unrealistic spaces and unexpected vistas combined with flowers and animals depicted from life. Brueghel mixed the past-artificial, jam-packed Mannerist compositions with a modern insistence on observation from nature. He frequently provided lush, warm-toned woodland scenes densely populated with exotic animals and flowers as frames for other artists' figures. His best-known collaborator was his friend Peter Paul Rubens. Brueghel's sons, including Jan Brueghel the Younger, and later artists carried on his style well into the 1700s. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

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