Vase of Flowers with Jewelry, Coins and Shells
Color explodes onto the canvas of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Vase of Flowers with Jewelry, Coins and Shells, leaving behind varying shades of red, orange, blue, yellow and white. The imposing mass of flowers startles the viewer at first, but the intoxicatingly sweet perfumes that emanate from the buds of the bouquet soon entice the viewer back into the painting and encourage a second look. In a demonstration of his extensive knowledge about flowers, Brueghel created a crowded composition of colossal scale. For all of the flowers’ stems to fit into the small copper vase seems implausible, generating an illusion that the flowers magically hover over the vase and table below. The viewer soon acknowledges, however, that it is simply the enormity of the arrangement that produces this delusion of suspension in space. Found within the arrangement are a multitude of flower types that exhibit a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. Questions about how such a diversity of flowers could bloom at the same time rise to the surface of this painting. The bouquet attests to Brueghel’s high level of knowledge about the cultivation of these plants in order to depict them in such a convincing way. Although Brueghel often studied flower specimens from life, this particular arrangement of such remarkable variability must have originated from the artist’s own inspiration and creative vision. As one of the earliest examples of a flower still life, this masterpiece by Brueghel provides a foundational understanding of how this genre began.