Balthasar van der Ast

New at the Mauritshuis

Schilderij Vaasje met een enkele tulp van Balthasar van der Ast in het Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis has an abundance of colorful paintings with flowers and richly decorated bouquets and we have just added a new flower still life by Balthasar van der Ast. The painting Small vase with a single tulip from around 1625 is a rare panel (26.5 x 20 cm) that depicts only one flowering tulip.

Shortly after 1600, flower still lifes emerged as a new genre in Dutch painting - paintings featuring a bouquet of blooming flowers. Rare and exotic species were favorites, such as the tulip.

All equally breathtaking, a celebration of color and filled with many little creepy-crawlies. Rare and exotic species were favorites, such as the tulip. We're incredibly proud and happy to share this unique work with you. Will you come and see it soon?

The painting

'Broken' tulips with flamed petals were incredibly popular in the 17th century. That's why you hardly ever see solid-colored tulips in paintings from that time. They just didn't know back then that the 'flames' on the tulip were the result of a viral infection. As a result, not the same tulip would bloom from a bulb every year.

On one of the petals, there's a butterfly, a blue one. On the other side, next to the vase, there's a fat housefly. Where the butterfly often symbolizes renewal and reincarnation, the housefly refers to death and decay. The fly reminds us of the inevitable withering of the tulip, but the butterfly offers us hope. Every year a new flower blooms from the tulip bulb.

Two very significant themes for such a small and charming painting!

Schilderij Vaasje met een enkele tulp van Balthasar van der Ast in het Mauritshuis
Balthasar van der Ast, Vase with a single Tulip, 1625 New at the Mauritshuis

His life

The Dutch painter Balthasar van der Ast (Middelburg, 1593/1594) was raised by his older sister Maria. She was married to still life painter Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621). Bosschaert eventually became Van der Ast's mentor and introduced him to still life painting.

In 1619, Balthasar van der Ast registered as a master painter with the Utrecht St. Luke's Guild. At that time, the city of Utrecht was the center of the flower still life art. Painter Roelant Savery, who will have an exhibition at the Mauritshuis in the spring of 2024, was also active there.

Savery had a great influence on Van der Ast's development. In addition, Balthasar van der Ast had the advantage of being able to study various types of flowers at Savery's home. The painter owned his own garden in Utrecht with exotic flowers and plants.

Ambrosius Bosschaert De Oude Vaas Met Bloemen In Een Venster MH679 Mauritshuis
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Vase of Flowers in a Window, 1618

'Dutch' tulips

The tulip is known as a true Dutch flower. But is that really true? Not really! 

The tulip was a newcomer from Asia, introduced shortly before 1600 from Constantinople (now Istanbul). Botanist Carolus Clusius from the Southern Netherlands played an important role in the spread of tulips in the Netherlands. He was brought to Holland in 1593 to establish the first Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. In addition, he wrote the first scientific treatise on tulips and provided plant lovers with bulbs and seeds.