Colnaghi Collections_Vol 01 - Page 168

Nevertheless, Kurt Mullenmeister, author of the standard
The present still life is considerably larger in scale and more
monograph on the artist, argues that his production of flower pieces
ambitious in pictorial effects than the Utrecht painting.
was more regular, systematic, and of greater importance than the
Mullenmeister considered the present work one of the greatest of
paucity of extant works implies. Mullenmeister also suggests that
Savery’s flower pieces and the only one to show such an elaborate
these still lifes were conceived fundamentally as a means of artistic
trompe l’oeil treatment of the niche. The vase may well have been a
self-expression, rather than commissions, something which may
studio prop, as it resembles one found in two slightly earlier still lifes
explain their relative rarity and high quality.
dated 1610 (now in the Stedelijk Museum vor Schone Kunsten,
Kortrijk) and 1612 (formerly with Paul Mitchell, London) (fig. 24.2).7
The essential formula for Savery’s still-life compositions was
Waldglas, produced in the fifteenth century, was greatly prized in the
established as early as 1603, when he painted his first dated floral
seventeenth century, and the depicted vase would have been over
piece (Centraal Museum, Utrecht; fig. 24.1). This picture, probably
one hundred years old at the time our picture was painted. In the
painted in Amsterdam the year before Savery departed for Prague,
present work, it protrudes over the edge of the niche, projecting
is the artist’s earliest dated still life and one of the earliest surviving
into the viewer’s space while emphasizing the depth of the alcove.
Dutch flower paintings in oils. Similar, but on a more modest scale,
The motif of the lizard with its tail extending out of the recess
this work shows the same green Waldglas (“Forest” glass) vase, with
recurs in Savery’s most ambitious work, a large Bouquet of Flowers
lizards, butterflies, and beetle arranged within a niche. The same
in a Niche now in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht (1624; fig. 24.3).8
motifs, albeit with the addition of a frog, are repeated in Savery’s
last dated still life of 1630, now in the Curtius Museum, Lüttich.5
As with other still lifes of the period, Savery’s flower pieces have
Between these two paintings, Savery’s work maintained a freshness
been subject to considerable iconographical scrutiny. It remains
of invention using the same basic formula. While the flower
debatable whether they were intended to be read symbolically or
pieces became less obviously botanical and their compositions
were simply manifestations of the scientific curiosity cultivated
less crowded, they grew more ambitious in scale, and, by the mid-
at Rudolf’s court. In classical mythology lizards are associated
1610s, more sophisticated in their lighting effects.
with Apollo and hence sunlight, but were uncommon in the
Netherlands; however, Savery could have observed them in the
Fig. 24.1 Roelandt Savery, A Bouquet of Flowers in a Niche, 1603,
oil on copper, 29 x 19 cm, Utrecht, Centraal Museum.
The small flower piece of 1603 in Utrecht already illustrates
imperial menageries along with exotic insects. Together with
differences between Savery and his contemporaries, De Gheyn, Jan
the butterflies and seasonal flowers, they might refer to spring or
Brueghel, and Bosschaert. Whereas these other artists tended to
summer. Butterflies may also symbolize vanitas, a theme applicable
illuminate their works with an even fall of light, yielding flatness of
to the marbleized niche clearly bearing the marks of time. The
surface, Savery used colour, line and shadow to render more explicit
window was a frequent artistic trope in the seventeenth century,
spatial relationships. In his still life of 1603, Savery demonstrates a
suggesting a “window on the world” through art. Savery’s painted
sophisticated deployment of aerial perspective, placing the warmer
niche and fictive bouquet of flowers would have provided a foil
colours of the rose and lily close to the foreground, with the blue
to actual vases of flowers displayed in niches in seventeenth-
iris behind, acting as a cool foil to the warmer frontal tones. Strong
century interiors. The pictorial subtleties of the present picture
contrasts of light and shadow also give depth to the painting. Finally
look forward to the large work of 1624 in Utrecht (see fig. 24.3)
the motif of a briar rose climbing in front of a yellow and orange
With its relatively loose brushwork, the latter was, however,
parrot tulip in both the early Utrecht still life and the present picture,
evidently conceived as a decorative picture to be seen from a
is a virtuoso demonstration of Savery’s interest in pictorial effects;
distance rather than an exercise in technical dexterity and as a
tulips were notoriously expensive and often given prominence in
result lacks the immaculate detail of the present still life, painted
Dutch still-life paintings. However, as Taylor observes, “De Gheyn
nine years earlier.
Fig. 24.2 Roelandt Savery, Flower Bouquet in a Glass Vase, 1612, oil on copper,
16.8 x 13.5 cm, Private Collection.
or Bosschaert were not sufficiently concerned with spatial effects to
occlude the most expensive flower in this way.”6
J eremy H oward


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