Flowers In a Glass Vase - A Consideration of Time Gathered and Arrested

Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase

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Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase, Ambrosius Bosschaert, 1621, oil on copper, 31.6 x 21.6 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This visualization demonstrates the artifice of seventeenth-century Dutch flower paintings.  The flowers in the painting bloom across different seasons, ranging from late winter to mid-autumn, and some for only a few weeks each year, making this exact collection impossible.  Artists such as Bosschaert probably worked from both the flowers when they bloomed as well as sketches and scientific drawings of the blooms.  The arrangement of the flowers is also impossible, designed to look aesthetically appealing (each flower faces forward, which would be unlikely in a real vase) rather than physically possible:  the bouquet is over twice as high as the rather small vase, meaning the weight of the flowers would certainly topple it over.  This representation of the painting also demonstrates the extent of Dutch exploration and trade, showcasing imported blooms from the far reaches of the world.  Finally, the fact that almost all of these flowers can be precisely identified nearly 400 years later demonstrates the incredible precision and accuracy of the Dutch flower painters, stemming from both a scientific interest and a spiritual desire to honor God's beautiful natural creations.

When you click on each highlighted flower, you will be able to learn the identity of the plant (including its scientific name), the time of year when it is in bloom, the origin of the flower, and any special notes.  Furthermore, you will be presented with both contemporary photographs of the flowers, as well as seventeenth-century sketches from artists including Basilius Besler (the Hortus Eystettensis), Crispijn van der Passe (Hortus Floridus), and Jan Moninckx (the Moninckx Atlas), similar to those Bosschaert may have worked from.  When you click on the “1621” in the lower right-hand corner, you will find a color-coded timeline, indicating when each flower bloomed, demonstrating the impossibility of this collection existing at a single moment in time.