Cut Flowers

in Nuncius
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Designations of still life as natura morta, nature morte, naturaleza muerta are based on a gross misunderstanding. We are only beginning to fully understand how masterfully the genre played with the supposed boundaries between the living and dead. It is above all floral still life painting after 1600, in which the intermediate state between life and death is centrally thematized. Where do cut plants actually derive their mysterious liveliness? Throughout its history the study of botany focused on the reality and mystery of plant metabolism. As scientists fiercely debated the nutritional aspect of floral still life in the horizon of its precarious liveliness, Dutch painters experimented with making visible the mysterious interiority of vases. In this way, still life painters modelled the larger epistemic problem of plant nutrition, self-preservation, and life not in terms of a positive answer, or hypothesis, but as an enigmatic field, an open question.


Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science (Formerly: Annali dell'Istituto e Museo di storia della scienza di Firenze)




Giulio Cesare Capaccio, Delle imprese (Napoli: Giacomo Carlino and Antonio Pace, 1592), fol. 33r.


Norman Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked, Four Essays on Still Life Painting (London: Reaktion Books, 1990), pp. 17–59. On classical still life painting, see Jean-Michel Croisille, Natures mortes dans la Rome antique: Naissance d’ un genre artistique (Paris: Editions A&J Picard, 2015).


More examples in Giuseppe De Vito, “In cerca di un percorso per Giovanni Battista Recco,” in Ricerche sul ’600 napoletano. Saggi e documenti 2008 (Napoli: Electa, 2009), pp. 39–56. On Neapolitan still life painting, cf. most recently Joris van Gastel, “Auf fruchtbarem Boden. Das neapolitanische Stillleben,” in Caravaggios Erben. Barock in Neapel, exhibition catalog (Wiesbaden), edited by Peter Forster (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2016), pp. 226–237. Balthasar van der Ast takes up the constellation succinctly in his late floral still lifes with shells and crabs. One lying on its back seems to be dead; it could also been seen as if in a fight with the standing crab. Both animals seem to stare at the viewer (private collection, late 1630s). On the painting, cf. Sylvia Böhmer, Timo Trümper (eds.), Die Stilleben des Balthasar van der Ast, exhibition catalogue (Aachen and Gotha 2016) (Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2016), p. 199. Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger’s small painting in the Lugt collection shows a supine frog surrounded by four flies. Is the frog dead? He seems to be gesticulating, or twitching; his eye glistens. Cf. L.J. Bol, The Bosschaert Dynasty. Painters of Flowers and Fruit (Leigh-on-Sea: F. Lewis Publishers Ltd., 1960), p. 97 (cat. no. 32).


See Ira Oppermann, Das spanische Stillleben im 17. Jahrhundert. Vom fensterlosen Raum zur lichtdurchfluteten Landschaft (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2007), pp. 158–162.


See Klaus Ertz, Christa Nitze-Ertz, Marten van Cleve (1524–1581). Kritischer Katalog der Gemälde und Zeichnungen (Flämische Maler im Umkreis der großen Meister vol. 9) (Lingen: Luca, 2014).


Holger Jacob-Friesen, “Tierstillleben – Definition, Geschichte, Rezeption. Zur Einführung in Ausstellung und Katalog,” in Von Schönheit und Tod. Tierstillleben von der Renaissance bis zur Moderne, exhibition catalog (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe) (Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 2011), pp. 15–37; the quotation after Goethe is at the beginning and at the end of the article (my emphasis). Fred G. Meijer’s article in the same volume is titled as Niederländische Stillleben mit toten Tieren zwischen 1600 und 1800, despite the fact that many paintings include living animals and – more important – animals that do not allow for a clear distinction. This is laconically confirmed by some catalog entries, cf. pp. 242 or 272.


Cf. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, “Caravaggios Früchtekorb – das früheste Stilleben?,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 2002, 65:1–23.


Cf. Hans Belting, “Repräsentation und Anti-Repräsentation. Grab und Porträt in der frühen Neuzeit,” in Quel corps? Eine Frage der Repräsentation, edited by Hans Belting (Munich: Fink, 2002), pp. 29–52.


Cf. Jeffrey Ruda, Fra Filippo Lippi. Life and Work (London: Phaidon Press, 1999), pp. 224–230.


More nuanced: Elisabeth Oy-Marra, “Blumenstillleben zwischen Naturabbild, Metamalerei und antialbertianischem Bildkonzept: Von der Madonna in der Blumengirlande Brueghels d.Ä. zu den Kartuschenstillleben von Daniel Seghers und Umkreis,” in Vom Objekt zum Bild. Piktorale Prozesse in Kunst und Wissenschaft, 1600–2000, edited by Bettina Gockel (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011), pp. 65–91. Werner Busch pleads for a multi-perspectival historical approach on still live beyond attribution and metapictorial “self-thematizing of art.” See Werner Busch, “Rembrandts ‘Muschel’ – Nachahmung der Natur? Ein methodisches Lehrstück,” in ibid., pp. 93–121.


Cf. Christopher Wood, “ ‘Curious Pictures’ and the Art of Description,” Word & Image, 1995, 11/4:332–352; Harry Berger Jr., Caterpillage. Reflections on Seventeenth-Century Dutch Still-Life Painting (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), pp. 10–11.


Cf. Caroline Murphy, Lavinia Fontana. A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 92–97.


Cf. Achille Della Ragione, La natura morta napoletana dei Recco e dei Ruoppolo (Napoli: Napoli Arte, 2009).


Cf. Stefania Mason Rinaldi, Palma il Giovane. L’opera completa (Milano: Mondadori Electa, 1984), p. 138 (cat. no. 520); Ead., “Jacopo Palma il Giovane all’Ospedaletto dei Crociferi: una nuova cronologia,” Arte Veneta, 1977, 31:240–250.


Cf. Paul Pieper, “Ludger tom Ring d.J. und die Anfänge des Stillebens,” Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 1964, 15:113–122; Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Die Geschichte des Stillebens (Munich: Hirmer, 1998), pp. 29–30.


Hans-Werner Ingensiep, Geschichte der Pflanzenseele. Philosphische und biologische Entwürfe von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (Stuttgart: Kröner, 2001).


Alan G. Morton, History of Botanical Science. An Account of the Development of Botany from Ancient Times to the Present Day (London: Academic Press, 1981), p. 130.


On Hiepes, see Peter Cherry, Arte y naturaleza: el Bodegón español en el siglo de oro (Madrid: Ediciones Doce Calles, 1999), pp. 271–283; Oppermann, Das spanische Stillleben im 17. Jahrhundert (cit. note 10), pp. 51–56.


See most recently Carmen Ripollés, “Fictions of Abundance in Early Modern Madrid: Hospitality, Consumption, and Artistic Identity in the Work of Juan van der Hamen y León,” Renaissance Quarterly, 2016, 69/1:155–199. Tomás Hiepes makes this point in a close-up in his “Drinking Hunters in the Landscape” (Valencia): living man and dead birds bow their heads to the surface of the water while an expansive, blooming thorn bush represents the nourished plant kingdom on the right side of the picture; cf. Oppermann, Das spanische Stillleben im 17. Jahrhundert (cit. note 10), plate 174.


On this artist, cf. Claudia Salvi, “Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer et Antoine Monnoyer. Problèmes d’ attributions,” Revue du Louvre, 2002, 52/2:55–63.


Cf. Julius Sachs, Geschichte der Botanik vom 16. Jahrhundert bis 1860 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1875), pp. 492–493 (“Geschichte der Ernährungstheorie der Pflanzen”).


Ibid., p. 481.


Ibid., p. 60.


Ibid., p. 63.


Cf. Claus Grimm, Stilleben. Die italienischen, spanischen und französischen Meister (Stuttgart-Zurich: Belser, 1995), p. 168.


  • Figure 1

    Giuseppe Recco, Natura morta di pesci (detail)Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli

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  • Figure 2

    Giuseppe Recco, La Natura Morta con testa di caprone (detail), ca. 1650Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli

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  • Figure 3

    Lavinia Fontana, Portrait of Costanza Alidosi, ca. 1585National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington

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  • Figure 4

    Giuseppe Recco, Natura morta con festoni di fiori e cacciagione (detail), 1671Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Napoli

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  • Figure 5

    Meister des Paradiesgärtleins, Madonna of the Strawberries, ca. 1410Kunstmuseum, Solothurn

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  • Figure 6

    Palma Giovane, Mass in the Oratorio dei Crociferi, 1568–1587Ospedaletto dei Crociferi, Venice

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  • Figure 7

    Jan Brueghel d. Ä., Kleiner Blumenstrauß, 1599–1607Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien

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  • Figure 8

    Jan Brueghel d. J., Flowers in a Gilt Tazza, ca. 1620The Norton Simon Foundation, Pasadena

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  • Figure 9

    Juan Bautista de Espinosa, Still Life with Fruits and Flowers,ca. 1645Private Collection

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  • Figure 10

    Jan van den Hecke, Still life with Flowers and the Siege of Graveling, 1652Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien

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  • Figure 11

    Ambrosius Bosschaert d. Ä., Flowers in a Glass, 1606Museum of Art, Cleveland

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  • Figure 12

    Giovanna Garzoni, ca. 1640Uffizi, Firenze

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  • Figure 13

    Jacques Linard, Still Life Painting (detail), ca. 1630, ParisPrivate Collection

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  • Figure 14

    Jan Davidsz de Heem, Vase of Flowers, 1654The Norton Simon Foundation Pasadena

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  • Figure 15

    Detail from Figure 14

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