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Still Life with Flowers in a Vase

Christoffel van den Berghe, Dutch (active Middelburg), active c. 1617 - after 1628

Made in Netherlands, Europe


Oil on copper

14 13/16 × 11 5/8 inches (37.6 × 29.5 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 362, European Art 1500-1850, third floor

Accession Number:
Cat. 648

Credit Line:
John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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In this still life, Christoffel van den Berghe collected an impossible bouquet of blooms that open at different times of the year, demonstrating that he could surpass the abilities of nature. Each flower is given equal illumination but the most prominent are three striped tulips, which were especially prized in early seventeenth-century Holland. The artist also included shells, insects, and two cups of kraak porcelain imported from China. Flower still lifes were the specialty of painters in Middelburg, capital of the province of Zeeland, and were among the most expensive kind of paintings available in the Dutch republic, their prices rivaling and often surpassing the largest and most complicated history paintings.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Christoffel van den Berghe was a flower painter active in the Dutch town of Middelburg, which was known for its horticultural collections. Here he depicts a bouquet that includes both large, cultivated flowers, such as tulips, roses, irises, and lilies, as well as smaller wild flowers, such as snowflakes and nasturtiums. The larger cultivated flowers are rather stiffly arranged in a type of Dutch glass known as a roemer, while the wild specimens are haphazardly inserted between them. This combination of order and disorder, like the contrast between cultivated and wild specimens, suggests that the bouquet functions as a memento mori, or reminder of the transience of life and physical beauty. Other elements of the composition are equally evocative references to the fleeting nature of life. The caterpillar, for example, will become a glorious butterfly, but will live only moments in its splendor. Likewise, the stone niche in which the bouquet is placed is reminiscent of a tomb, and the chips around its edges are a testament to the permanence of death and decay. Katherine Crawford Luber, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 173.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.