If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Course: Europe 1300 - 1800 > Unit 9

Lesson 4: Dutch Republic

Van Huysum, Vase with Flowers

Jan van Huysum, Vase with Flowers, c. 1718-20, oil on canvas, 24 x 31 in. (61 x 79 cm), (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London) Speakers: Pippa Couch, Rachel S. Ropeik. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(piano music playing) Rachel: So we are Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, and we are standing in front of Jan van Huysum's Vase with Flowers, from about 1720. It's quite a vase. It's quite a lot of flowers that we've got here. Pippa: Yeah, it's bombastic colors spilling out, overflowing, isn't it? It's not a neat flower arrangement that your grandmother might have slaved over, is it? Rachel: Little sprigs going off every which way, and flowers leaning, and lots of contrast between kind of the bright white and light-colored flowers, and then these really deep shadowed, kind of darker-colored flowers. Pippa: And the painting, I mean, when standing here in front of it, really holds up under a microscope. I mean, it's like we're looking through a microscope. All the detail you have on the leaves. You have a leaf here with a bee on it, and there's a raindrop. You look at the raindrop, it's magnifying tiny lines of the leaf underneath it. You've got ladybirds, butterflies, all that, just the activity, and the velvety, velvety texture you feel on that tulip. Rachel: Yeah, you do feel like if you touched it, it would feel like a real tulip. And imagining how painstaking it must have been to paint that with these tiny, tiny little brushes, you know, one and two hairs. Pippa: Yeah, it must have been just a few more, and it's interesting as well because although it's just flowers, there's definitely something else going on in the picture here, I think. If you look down here, we have a bird's nest. And in there, we've got eggs, the beginning of life. Rachel: You can follow this idea of the life cycle because there are eggs in this bird's nest, which keeps kind of drawing the eye with this incredible attention to detail, and then kind of hiding in the flowers, there's this little naked boy who is, I think, supposed to be painted on the vase, probably, Pippa: Yeah, it looks like he's running around the back of the vase there, doesn't he? Going on from there, we have, like, birth and the beginning of youth, and looking at all the arrangement of flowers, they're not all in full blooms. Some are budding. Some are spring, coming to life. Some are in bombastic bloom, like this big red chrysanthemum, or whatever it is in the middle there, and then further away, the ones in the back, in the shade are in the shadow, the sunset of life. The leaves are falling off, they're browning. Rachel: Yeah. Pippa: And so it does seem to represent the cycle. Rachel: Maybe it's just me, but my eye does keep just coming back to that nest, and after death, that cycle renews itself and starts again with the eggs again. Pippa: So you've got the dead twigs and then the birth. Rachel: Yeah. thinking about the flowers, I don't know if all these flowers would necessarily be in bloom at the same time in a year. Rachel: Yeah. I think that's sort of typical of Dutch still-life flower painting at the time, which is including this idea of the cycle of the seasons, mirroring the cycle of birth and death and life. Pippa: And the detail. Just if you had this on your wall at home, you just keep coming back to it, wouldn't you? You'd never get bored with it. There's just more and more detail in there you can find. Each time I look, I see a butterfly, another little insect burrowing around in there, and these red ones at the top, I mean, they look like Chinese lanterns. Rachel: And I do think this is a really good one to play scavenger hunt with and find something new every time because you can keep looking for more and more detail, and just keep kind of digging in deeper and deeper. (piano music playing)