The still life was developed as a separate category of painting in the seventeenth century. Dutch artists worked in a variety of still–life traditions that ranged from banquet pieces to paintings focused solely on fruit, shells, books, or flowers. De Heem was one of the most gifted and versatile of these artists, and one of the most influential. His consummate technique allowed him to portray a great variety of textures in a convincing manner. In this flower painting we can delight in his realistic depiction of tulip petals, long bent reeds of wheat, minute animals including butterflies, ants, snails, caterpillars, and finally, reflections on the transparent glass vase.

De Heem also had great compositional sensitivity. Over twenty types of flowers, vegetables, and grains have been brought together here in a way that permits their colors and shapes to balance in an harmonious arrangement. Despite De Heem's realistic depiction, this floral arrangement never actually could have existed. The flowers represented grow at different seasons of the year. In many of his paintings De Heem chose to include specific animals and flowers because of their symbolic meanings; the butterfly, for example, is often a symbol for the Resurrection.


  • Title: Vase of Flowers
  • Date Created: c. 1660
  • Physical Dimensions: w565 x h696 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Andrew W. Mellon Fund
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Theme: still life
  • School: Dutch
  • Provenance: Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild [1808-1879], London; by inheritance to his son, Leopold de Rothschild [1845-1917]; by inheritance to his son, Lionel Nathan de Rothschild [1882-1942], Exbury, Hampshire; by inheritance to his son, Edmund Leopold de Rothschild [1916-2009], Exbury; sold 1947 to (Frank Partridge and Sons, London).[1] Mr. McIntosh, Bridge Allen, Scotland.[2] (William Hallsborough Gallery, London, 1958). (Fritz Nathan and Peter Nathan, Zurich, 1959); (Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York); purchased 17 May 1961 by NGA.[1] The Rothschild provenance information was kindly provided by Michael Hall, curator to Edmund de Rothschild; see his letter of 27 February 2002, in NGA curatorial files, which cites documents in the Rothschild Archive, London. [2] The McIntosh name is provided by Nathan and Nathan; see their letter of 24 September 1959, in NGA curatorial files.
  • Artist: Jan Davidsz de Heem

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