The Brueghels: flower painters
Against a smooth black background, the bouquet of flowers features magnificent, shimmering corollas. To add to the appeal of this painting – considerable in terms of size and virtuosity alike – Jan Brueghel the Younger, son of Jan the Elder, nicknamed "Velvet" Brueghel, decided to place his sheaf of carnations, roses, tulips and irises in an Italian majolica vase sporting mythological scenes. A beetle makes its slow way over the entablature, where a stem of jasmine lies wilting. These are not the main aspects, of course, but they play a crucial role: evoking the brevity of life for the viewer as does the subliminal message of the various flowers. The wealth brought by the considerable expansion of commerce, the development of knowledge – particularly in botany – and the growing primacy of science over religious teaching offended both Protestant and Catholic sensibilities. These decorative tableaux were there to remind people that in this earthly world, all is vanity. The gardens of Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels contained exotic flowers brought back from distant and highly expensive travels. They evoked a kind of Paradise on earth, transposed exquisitely in painting by both Jan Brueghels. Their flowers reflect the course of human life, from the bud and sublime flowering period to the falling petals and withering leaves. This painting by Jan the Younger takes up a theme that had made his father famous. His flower compositions, re-situated in their context, were certainly not presented as faithful depictions of reality: even today's viewers can see that they are staged scenes. Defying the natural order of their respective flowerings, these blooms are simultaneously a hymn to the beauty of the universe and its transience, and an incitement to moral meditation.