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Vase of Flowers, 1654

Jan Davidzoon de Heem

Dutch, 1606-1683/84
Oil on canvas
26-1/2 x 21-3/4 in. (67.3 x 55.2 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1973.06.P
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

Utrecht-born Jan de Heem specialized in virtuosic flower and banquet pieces that were enthusiastically collected by aristocrats and wealthy merchants alike. This exquisite still life presents a harmonious marriage of color and line and attests to the artist’s ability to describe with great precision a range of forms, textures and colors. All the elements are ordered along several axes that meet at the center of the composition, while myriad details throughout, including flowers rendered with the accuracy of a botanist, encourage prolonged examination. However, the sense of movement created by these dynamic lines guides the eye through the still life, so that it does not rest on any one particular detail for too long.

The vanitas theme that was so popular in early examples of the genre waned by the second half of the 17th century, as an interest in the decorative supplanted the emphasis on moralizing iconography. Though de Heem included certain symbols associated with the theme (drooping flowers, a shaft of wheat and short-lived insects), his focus lay in the bravura painting of beautiful motifs in arrangements that signify abundance.

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