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BOUQUET OF FLOWERS IN A VASE

S. Cardamone

Shelby Cardamone
Art History, Dr. Strang
October 2016
Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase

Maria Van Oosterwyck had what was- and to some extent, still isconsidered an abnormal life for a woman in the Netherlands during her time.
Born in 1630,1 she showed a talent for art at an early age, which didnt go
unnoticed by her father. As a girl she was enrolled in art classes at his hand, and
this swiftly and effortlessly became her lifes work. Maria was born into a time of
great economic prosperity. In the mid-1600s, Amsterdam became the financial
capital of Europe. Leiden became a famous center of learning. Dutch culture and
art, particularly painting, flourished during this Golden Age. 2 When Maria was
eighteen, the 30 Years War ended, giving the Netherlands independence from
Spain. That in culmination with having the worlds most prosperous trading
company and you can envision a sort of leisurely, painterly existence. Art from
this era was very romantic and bourgeoisie. This renaissance of Dutch art
focused on hyper-realism, masterfully depicted images playing with high-contrast
light. The paintings in this era often fall under the category of chiaroscuro, Italian
for light-dark, an art movement characterized by these dramatically lit paintings.
Other painters in this canon include Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
Times were economically ideal, the Netherlands now being a major player
in international trade, and with some expendable income the Dutch cultivated an
1. Maria Van Oosterwyck. Wikipedia, 2016 (Accessed October 21, 2016)
2. DiPiazza, Francesca Davis. Netherlands in Pictures. (Lerner Publishing Group, 2011) pg. 28

insatiable lust for flowers, especially tulips. 3 A great deal of money was spent on
these tulips and so when the market crashed, there was a displacement. The
painters of the era started painting flowers for far cheaper than the actual tulips
had been,4 and seeing that this made money, a great deal of time was spent
perfecting these still-lifes. After mastery comes adding ones own personality.
Aristocrats, the middle class, and even the poor adored this new fashion and its
canon is impressively expansive to this day.
As mentioned, Oosterwyck had a unique life for a woman of her time. She
never married and didnt have children, instead devoting her efforts and time to
her art. She once courted another painter, Van Elst, 5 although it didnt end well.
Its rumored that she was a bit stiff with men, preferring to focus instead on
painting and perfecting technique. Other artists of her time, especially women,
were without variable both married and raising a family- this hindered their
progress, however Maria again was able to devote all of her time to art.
Another notable trait about Maria, which was highly synchronous with her
time, was her unwavering devotion to God. The Dutch in the era of the Golden
Age were split between Calvinist and Catholic, 6 Mary most likely being the
former judging by her use of iconology. Every caste from the aristocracy to
paupers had faith, and its heavily represented in their art. There are symbols in
many of Oosterwycks drawings depicting piousness, and blatant references to

3-4. Dash,Mike. Tulipomania: The Story of the Worlds Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary
Passions It Aroused. (Broadway Books, 2001)
5. Maria Van Oosterwyck. Wikipedia, 2016 (Accessed October 21, 2016)
6. DiPiazza, Francesca Davis. Netherlands in Pictures. (Lerner Publishing

Group, 2011) pg. 24

death. In Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, the theme of God is represented in the


bright yellow sunflower in the top hemisphere of the photo- its turned up, looking
towards the heavens- toward God. 7 Despite this canonical structure,
Oosterwycks style was still distinct; especially in its subtlety, which well go into
later.
Marias piousness in combination with the lack of family allowed for a
space in which she could use tunnel vision, like a Dutch Leonardo da Vinci, and
feverish focus to work solely on her art. She perfected the style and lent her own
touch, adding personal items to her still life paintings, spending her entire life
becoming a true master of this arena. In this way she became a sort of prodigy,
and quickly graduated from realism to hyper-realism. The flowers begin to look
more real than real flowers. Picasso once said Art is a lie that allows you to see
the truth, 8 and that surely has its seed in her art; and especially in this painting.
Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase is a complete falsity. Theyre not real
flowers and they will never wither because theyre only a representation- think
past this to the flowers featured in the painting. What season does each flower
typically bloom in? Theyre all different. This bouquet could never have been
made because each flower blooms in a different season. This painting was likely
rearranged from various other sketches Maria had done, a composite image of
Dutch flora throughout the seasons. Another fantastical element of her style is
that the colors and the light cast are so incredibly crisp and vibrant, standing out
brilliantly from their muted backgrounds. Some flowers have far more detail
7. Maria Van Oosterwyck. Wikipedia, 2016 (Accessed October 21, 2016)

8. Klingshr-Leroy, Cathrin. Surrealism. (Slovakia. Taschen, 2015)

where others are subdued, letting its neighbor have the spotlight. This creates a
very serene and romantic sense of balance with the swooping lines and general
vibrancy in contrast with the dark. It creates a very moody atmosphere, velveteen
and musky.
Many throughout her life, including European royalty, pursued Marias
talents. She painted proficiently all the while, although Bouquet was painted in
her forties after she had well mastered her craft. Bouquet is Maria at the height of
her skill in the 1670s when this was painted. 9 She clearly had full confidence
and control of her ability to depict the real, and her knack for making images
more beautiful than whats seen in real life is thoroughly developed.
When we talk about mastery we think of Van Gogh and Michelangelopioneers of vision and seers of the unspoken and unwritten. This echelon of elite
artists punctuate time and art with zeal that echoes in modern times. While Maria
isnt considered to be among the ranks of Da Vinci, she no less was truly a
virtuoso in her field. She saw how to enhance reality in what can be seen as a
stepping-stone toward a more modern movement we know as surrealism. I
believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are
seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may
so speak. 10 This was Andr Bretons sentiment, which can easily encapsulate
art as an entity. The creation of an illusion, an unreal image, like Magrittes Pipe,
which has been enhanced by the steady hand of a medium (in this case
9. Maria Van Oosterwyck. Wikipedia, 2016 (Accessed October 21, 2016)
10. Breton, Andr. Manifesto of Surrealism. (Paris, France. A.S. Kline, 1924)

Maria Van Oosterwyck), introduces a new reality- one containing this image. The
far-fetched way that the light is so dramatic and the fact that the flowers couldnt
ever be a true bouquet all amount to a dream world where we can create what
we want to see. The effect this has is through the creation of a feeling, and of
emotion. The flowers wouldnt be half as beautiful or interesting if they were all
cut at the same length and all the same kind of flower. But in this make-believe
scene theyre carefully displayed in dynamic light, offering you the sentiment that
these flowers convey. Who were they for? Are they dying, and who sent them?
The truth, more likely, is they were simply subjects for Marias work. But the way
theyre painted tells a story- going back to the subtlety of Oosterwyck, we notice
in Bouquet that the vase itself is painted with a window, giving the impression
that these flowers are in a room.
This of course led to many other stylistic forms of expression, though other
pieces from the time are rarely as sharp. The Dutch Golden Ages relevance to
art, collectively, was extremely influential in terms of painting light. It could
almost be photography, if it didnt also depict an ethereal layer via exaggeration.
A common adage is that people are just the universe experiencing itself- if thats
correct, then the powers that were in that time and place seem to have an
overwhelming affinity for nostalgia and preservation, not unlike my generation. A
relatively studious period in time artistically is typically countered by a period of
fierce expression. If history deigns to repeat itself, I think the investigation of the
Golden Age shows an echo of what may come.

Bouquet Bibliography

Breton, Andr. Manifesto of Surrealism. (Paris, France. A.S. Kline, 1924)


Dash,Mike. Tulipomania: The Story of the Worlds Most Coveted Flower & the
Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. (Broadway Books, 2001)
DiPiazza, Francesca Davis. Netherlands in Pictures. (Lerner Publishing
Group, 2011)
Klingshr-Leroy, Cathrin. Surrealism. (Slovakia. Taschen, 2015)
Maria Van Oosterwyck. Wikipedia, 2016 (Accessed October 21, 2016)