The two most important female representatives of seventeenth-century flower still life painting were Rachel Ruysch and Maria van Oosterwyck. The latter and oldest of the two came from a family of ministers. She never married and was active in Delft, and then in Amsterdam as of 1673. Accordingly to the eighteenth-century artists’ biographer Arnold Houbraken, she was a pupil of Jan Davidsz de Heem and although this is not confirmed, her work certainly displays an affinity with his. Van Oosterwyck was never a member of a guild. Yet she enjoyed great renown – for her art, naturally, but also because of her gender as a painter – as a result of which she received commissions from the highest circles at home and abroad. Even the French king, Louis XIV, was one of her clients.
This bouquet, which Van Oosterwyck probably painted around 1670-1675, consists of various flowers and plants rarely seen in paintings, such as thyme, cow parsley, larkspur, London pride and monkshood. Tulips are conspicuously absent. Van Oosterwyck often used colourful reeds to create a fanciful asymmetrical accent lending depth to the composition. At present, this is more conspicuous because in the course of time the rest of the foliage has discoloured causing the bouquet to lose much of its sense of depth.
The bouquet is set in a receptacle decorated with reliefs of putti, goats and vines. The lid is crowned with a classical bathing Venus. Van Oosterwyck placed the lid in such a way that the nude female figure seems to be looking at the flowers. Prominently displayed at the top of the bouquet are a sunflower and an opium poppy, which are emphatically turned to one another. Both flowers would have raised strong associations at the time. The sunflower, which always follows the sun, was often used in seventeenth-century literature as a metaphor for devout Christians following Christ in every respect. The poppy, which shuns the light, in contrast was associated with darkness and night time. It is unthinkable that Van Oosterwyck, who was known for her piety, did not wish to convey a message with the curious confrontation between two such significant flowers, but to date no conclusive explanation can be found.
(this is a reworked version of a text published in: E. Runia, Flowers in the Mauritshuis, The Hague 2007, pp. 60-61)
Maria van Oosterwyck (Nootdorp 1630 - 1693 Uitdam)
Flowers in an Ornamental Vase
Materiale e dettagli tecnici
47.5 x 62 cm
middenonder, op de rand van de tafel: MARIA VAN OOSTERWYCK
Coninck de Mercken Collection, Ghent, 1856; Bernard du Bus de Gisignies, Brussels; purchased, 1882
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