This virtuoso still life is a typical work by Juan de Arellano, who became a leading exponent of flower painting in mid-seventeenth-century Madrid after an unsuccessful attempt at forging a career as a figure painter. His compositions focus on bouquets of fresh flowers carefully combined in urns, baskets, or in bulbous glass vases, as is the case here. Observed at eye level, the stems of the flowers can be perceived through the gleaming glass vase, which stands on a stone plinth. The flowers include hyacinths, anemones, yellow flowers of the pea family, poppies, roses, and tulips. His configuration produces a chromatic harmony between the blossoms in primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and those in white and pale pink. Most flowers are in full bloom, but some rose buds are still to open up, thus infusing the picture with a sense of temporal progression.
The individual flowers have been depicted accurately and in painstaking detail with the use of fine brushes. Despite the illusion of a real bouquet, we must not forget that the image is not based on the artist’s direct observation of fresh flowers at a precise moment in time. Given that the depicted flowers grow and blossom at different times of the year, Arellano must have painted the piece either over a longer period of time from spring to summer, or all at once from his specialist knowledge of flowers and based on studies of different species. The composition is therefore an idealized picture based on the artist’s inventiveness and skill in producing a visually pleasing arrangement in two dimensions. The yellow flowers form an X-shaped cross, which serves to organize the composition. The colours also help to create an illusion of depth: tones of red and pink appear to advance towards the viewer, while the tones of blue and purple visually recede, drawing the viewer deeper into the composition. At the top and the bottom of the bouquet, two tulips—which were considered precious at the time—stand out for their distinctive blossoms marked by red and white streaks.
Painted with extraordinary skill, Arellano’s flower painting invites us to admire his pictorial achievements, marvel at nature, and indulge in visual pleasure. Looking slowly, we can appreciate the bright, contrasting colours and hues, the shapes and textures of the flowers, and the reflections of light on the petals, glass, and the stone surface.
The still life is similar to other flower pieces painted by Arellano later in life. His earlier paintings were more visibly derived from compositions imported from Antwerp and Rome, where flower painting began to flourish around 1600. He was particularly influenced by the works of Flemish artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625) and Daniel Seghers (1590–1661), as well as the Italian Mario Nuzzi (1603–73). It was only in the middle of the seventeenth century that flower painting took off in Spain. Although Arellano specialized in flower painting, his workshop, which was well-organized, produced different types of works, including paintings of fruit, garlands, portraits, landscapes, and religious and allegorical subjects. Apart from Arellano, Antonio Ponce painted floral pieces with a central allegorical or religious subject in the centre, a format popularized by Seghers. Arellano’s followers include his pupil and son-in-law, Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa (1634–98), who is the best Spanish flower painter of the latter part of the seventeenth century.
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Still Life with a Large Array of Flowers in a Glass Vase on a Stone Pedestal.
Juan de Arellano (Santorcaz, 1614 – Madrid, 1676).
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas.
81.7 x 62 cm.
Marks and Inscriptions
Signed lower right ‘Juan de Arellano’.
Acquired by The Zurbarán Trust in 2015.
In the collection of a European aristocratic family for at least three generations until 2015 when sold by Sotheby’s, London, 8 July 2015, lot 31.
The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland.
William B. Jordan & Peter Cherry, ‘Flower Painting in Madrid’, in Spanish Still Life from Velázquez to Goya (London: National Gallery, 1995), pp. 129–45;
James Macdonald & Edward Payne, ed., The Auckland Project at Sotheby’s: Paintings from The Spanish Gallery (New York, Sotheby’s, 2018), p. 87.