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Friday, September 13, 2013

Ambrosius Bosschaert

Roses, tulips, anemone, cyclamen
and other flowers in a porcelain
vase, Ambrosius Bosschaert
"It is the angelic hand of the great painter of flowers, Ambrosius, renowned even to the banks of death." 
--Ambrosius Bosschaert (in signing one of his paintings) 

In the annuls of art history it's not hard to find artists with outsized egos. While not exactly a requirement for the job, a certain degree of self-importance can come in handy in the course of an artist's career. A little is an asset. A lot is a liability. That would certainly fit the bill for the Dutch flower painter, Ambrosius Bosschaert. In the booming 17th century Dutch art world, artists specialized to a degree not unlike medical specialists today. Where once we had "eyes, ears, nose, and throat" specialists (EENTs), today, doctors in each of those areas have labels following their names all ending in "...oligist." I'm not certain is Bosschaert ever claimed to be a "floraloligist" but he certainly could claim the title as the foremost floral artist of his time (1573 – 1621), though art historians tend to think of him as having been the first Dutch artist to specialize in still-life painting (I won't ever try to add and "ologist" to that).
Fruit Still-life with Shells and Tulip, 1620, Ambrosius Bosschaert (the elder).
The arrangement seems somewhat contrived, but no less prone to insects.
Ambrosius Bosschaert (the elder) Only in details
such as this can you get a feel for the accuracy
with which the Bosschearts plied their trade.
It's not surprising his countrymen loved Bosschaert. The Dutch are in love with flowers of all kinds. In visiting the country last year, it seemed to me, the only thing more plentiful were bicycles. Not unexpectedly, tulips abound in Bosschaert's work, and not just run-of-the-mill tulips but hybrids. The Dutch bred flowers (then and now) like the British breed horses. But Bosschaert's floral arrangements are also rife with roses, Anemone, Cyclamen, Chrysanthemums, and enough others to keep a flower lover digging through pictorial reference books for weeks. And not only are Bosschaert's blossoms artfully arrange, they are scientifically accurate to the point of making them valuable illustrations in botanical journals (above, right).
Fruit Plate with Shells, Balthasar van der Ast. The brother-in-law also painted, though usually using a horizontal format. Bosschaert's flowers were almost always vertical.
Born in Antwerp, Bosschaert spent most of his life working from Middleburg where he moved in 1587 to avoid religious persecution. He ran something of a flower painting factory, manned by his three sons, Ambrosius II, Johannes, and Abraham, as well as his brother-in-law, Balthasar van der Ast (above). Their work is so similar, were it not for painted signatures, art historians would have long ago given up differentiating among them. Even at that, Ambrosius, his namesake, and his youngest son, Abraham, all signed their work AB (the two letters overlapping). Some believe the father was so busy selling the family's artistic output that he painted few of them himself. When Bosschaert chose to move up to a more vibrant art market, Amsterdam in 1613, the family moved with him. During the course of the next five years, their "art factory" moved to four different cities. In addition to flowers and other still-life items, Ambrosius (or one of his kids) also seems to have been fascinated by the bugs, worms, butterflies, and other admiring creatures they attracted. There's even a still life with a dead frog (below, accompanied by quite mournful-looking flies).
Dead Frog with Flies, 1630 Ambrosius Bosschaert II


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