The Great British art tour: the master of the naturally beautiful look

With public art collections closed we are bringing the art to you, exploring highlights from across the country in partnership with Art UK. Today’s pick: Cambridge’s Stoneware Vase of Flowers by Jan Brueghel the Elder

A Stoneware Vase of Flowers (detail), by Jan Brueghel the Elder, c1607-1608.
Detail from A Stoneware Vase of Flowers, by Jan Brueghel the Elder, c.1607-08. Photograph: Andrew Norman/The Fitzwilliam Museum, Image Library
Detail from A Stoneware Vase of Flowers, by Jan Brueghel the Elder, c.1607-08. Photograph: Andrew Norman/The Fitzwilliam Museum, Image Library
Henrietta Ward, assistant keeper, paintings, drawings and prints, Fitzwilliam Museum
Fri 19 Feb 2021 01.00 EST

There are tulips, roses, irises, forget-me-nots, daffodils and snake’s head fritillaries among the vast array of colourful flowers on display here. Their elongated stems overlap as if they are still growing and competing for prime place in the arrangement.

Nicknamed “Velvet” Brueghel for his ability to paint with enviable precision and delicacy, Jan Brueghel was one of the leading flower and landscape painters of his time. He was one of the sons of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the famous painter of peasant scenes who died when Jan was young. Jan and his siblings lived with their maternal grandmother, Mayken Verhulst, a watercolour artist who most likely taught her grandchildren to paint.

A stoneware vase of flowers, by Jan Brueghel the Elder, c1607-1608. H: 60.3cm W42.2cm
A Stoneware Vase of Flowers by Jan Brueghel the Elder, c1607-1608. H: 60.3cm W42.2cm Photograph: Andrew Norman/The Fitzwilliam Museum, Image Library

Alongside the insects and cut flowers on the ledge are pieces of jewellery and loose diamonds. The vast majority of diamonds imported into Europe during the 17th century, especially into the Low Countries, came from India. It was once thought that this painting may have been commissioned by a diamond merchant, but it is more likely that the precious stones are there simply to dazzle the viewer. When speaking about another of his works, Brueghel said to a patron, “under the flowers I have painted a jewel with coins, and with rare objects from the sea. It is up to you to judge whether or not flowers surpass gold and jewels.”

At a time when collectors spent enormous sums on tulip bulbs and other flora and fauna, Brueghel’s highly detailed paintings were seen as a substitute for the real thing: one claimed he could imagine the flowers’ scent and appreciate their everlasting colours, especially in winter.

This is one of more than 130 flower paintings in the Fitzwilliam Museum bequeathed by Henry Rogers Broughton, 2nd Lord Fairhaven. The bequest also included more than 2,500 botanical drawings, floral miniatures and watercolours by artists including Nicolas Robert, Georg Dionysius Ehret and Pierre-Joseph Redouté. This generous gift transformed the museum so that it is now recognised as having one of the most outstanding collections of botanical art in the world. Every three years, the museum curates an exhibition around this collection, the next, Scent from Nature: Beauty’s Botanical Origins, will open later this year.

You can see more art from the Fitzwilliam museum on Art UK here, and find out more on the museum’s website.

This series is brought to you in collaboration with Art UK, which brings the nation’s art together on one digital platform and tells the stories behind the art. The website shows works by 50,000 artists from more than 3,000 venues including museums, universities and hospitals as well as thousands of public sculptures. Discover the art you own here.

comments ()

Sign in or create your Hlcarpenter.com account to join the discussion.

comments ()

Sign in or create your Hlcarpenter.com account to join the discussion.