Fantasy Flowers at the Mauritshuis museum

Fantasy Flowers at the Mauritshuis museum


The Mauritshuis museum in the Hague is famous for its collection of Dutch masterpieces - Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, and Fabritius’ The Goldfinch are all on display here. But the silk-covered walls of this elegant Golden Age building also boast the best collection of 17th Century Dutch and Flemish flower still life paintings in the world – including Vase of Flowers in a Window by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder.

Muritshuis museum the hague


Born in Antwerp in 1573, Bosschaert the Elder (or III) was one of the pioneers of Dutch still-life painting. He learned to draw and paint from his father, the artist Ambrosius Bosschaert II, and began his career making drawings of rare and exotic flowers and fruit in botanical gardens, some of which may have been made for the botanist Carolus Clusius.

In 1593, he joined the Middelburg guild as a Master specialising in painting precise still lifes of flowers and fruit in the manner of those botanical illustrations, but grouped in compositions that carefully balance form and colour.


Vase of flowers in a window Ambrosius Bosschaert Mauritshuis

Vase of Flowers in a Window by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, 1618. Image courtesy Mauritshuis museum

Vase of Flowers in a Window is one of Bosschaert's best-loved works and it can be found in Room Three at the Mauritshuis. Made in 1618, it depicts a colourful bouquet of the 30 most beautiful flowers known to Bosschaert at the time and each is so meticulously painted that it seems you can smell their scent. But it is all a delightful deception –  the scene is a trompe l’oeil and the bouquet itself with its blooming iris, tulips (still a rarity in Holland at that time), peonies, and roses, is an impossibility in the natural world. And that is its magic. As novelist and poet Daniel A. Rabuzzi writes:

“Bosschaert the Elder’s painting creates a composite memorial to one’s emotional history. His impossible vase of flowers is nevertheless accurate of many moments accreted, layered, stroked, then lacquered and waxed onto the canvas of our consciousness. The memory –  not just of this tulip or that peony in this garden or that greenhouse  – but the memories of how you felt when you gazed upon the flowers.”