Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge ca. 1680s

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1680s; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

The exuberant profusion of flowers in this still life by Rachel Ruysch celebrates color, texture, and form. Her minute attention to detail captured even the individual grains of pollen inside each open flower. 

The dynamic, pyramid-shaped composition derives much of its energy from the asymmetrical arrangement of the blossoms, further accentuated by the wildly curving stems and dramatically highlighted central section. The dark background reveals a hint of architecture, demonstrating Ruysch’s awareness of this new compositional trend among flower painters in Amsterdam.

While this painting contains several elements that would also be found in the popular 17th-century Dutch picture type known as a vanitas, scholars doubt that this was Ruysch’s intention. A true vanitas painting stresses the brevity of earthly life and the inevitability of death and decay, through such objects as a snuffed-out candle or a worm-eaten fruit.

Ruysch’s depiction of insects alighting on the flowers or leaves that are beginning to turn brown, seems more a straightforward depiction of life rather than a moralizing statement on death.