c.1632-57; Oil on canvas, 59 x 43 cm; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
On a table stands a dark-green, fluted vase with flowers. Beside this are several exotic shells. These were probably part of the painter's collection since the one closest - a 'conus ranunculus' - occurs frequently in his work. A small salamander and a caterpillar are creeping across the table. Above left, in the shadow, a flying wasp approaches. The painting is signed by Balthasar van der Ast but he probably left a significant proportion of the work to his assistants. The painting's underdrawing is clearly visible. Van der Ast may well have produced this as a guideline for his apprentices to continue 'coloring in'.
An ochre-yellow ground was applied over the underdrawing. The yellow shines through the grey upper layer, giving the painting a warm glow. In some places it is the ground that we see, as in the butterfly's wing where the yellow is uncovered. The background was the first to be painted, with spaces left for the flowers. These were then coloured in, but so finely that the underdrawing remains visible. The flowers are modelled more with lines than with paint. Van der Ast has given the closest flowers a light colour, which projects them forward somewhat. The flowers at the edge of the bouquet are painted against the dark background, marginalising them. In this way the artist gives the bouquet depth and volume.
Ground is visible in the butterfly
Underdrawing defines the flower
Balthasar van der Ast's brother-in-law was the still-life painter Ambrosius Bosschaert in whose style he first worked. These early flower pieces provide a display of botanically interesting flowers, depicted side-by-side. This still life by Van der Ast is from a later period. It is less precise and shows a more casual style. The individual flowers are less detailed and overlap. However, Van der Ast has copied a few of the flowers from paintings by Bosschaert.
Credits: The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.