My favourite painting: Rob and Nick Carter

'This painting will always hold a dear place in our hearts.'

Vase of Flowers in a Window, about 1618, by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573–1621), 251⁄4in by 18in, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

Rob and Nick Carter say:
‘We first fell in love with this painting back in 2007, when we were searching for a Dutch still-life to animate. We loved the fact it had a landscape in the background to change from dawn to dusk and characters for us to bring to life. We wanted to highlight the fragility and transitoriness of the flowers and insects in the original work and to inspire the viewer to re-look at painting. After four years in the making, we exhibited our three-hour looped film, Transforming Still Life Painting, at the Frick Collection in New York in the 2013 show ‘Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch painting from the Mauritshuis’. It was the first contemporary work the Frick had ever shown. This painting will always hold a dear place in our hearts as the catalyst for our “Transforming” series.’

John McEwen comments:
Still-life painting has its origins in ancient Roman murals. It first became popular as a pictorial genre in the 17th century and was symptomatic of the Dutch Golden Age, when the northern Netherlands had broken free of the Habsburg-ruled Holy Roman empire. A bourgeois art, celebrating the rewards of commerce, it suited a republic that introduced the first multinational corporation (the Dutch East India Company, 1602), stock exchange and central bank (Bank of Amsterdam, 1609), making it the world’s foremost maritime and economic power.

Still-life subjects in order of preference were flowers, fruit, laid tables, fish, slaughtered meat and dead game. In an intensely religious age, they were allegorical reminders of the transience of life. One of the earliest floral masters was Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, so defined because his three sons were also successful flower painters.

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Protestant Bosschaert lived most of his life in Dutch Middelburg, where he moved after the Habsburg forces of Catholic Spain captured Antwerp, his birthplace. He joined Middleburg’s Guild of Saint Luke, the local artists’ ‘trade union’, of which he eventually became dean. Like many Dutch artists, he was also a successful art dealer.

It was late in his career that he brought more colour harmony to his arrangements and placed them on windowsills and ledges. The bunches were ideal selections, including flowers from different seasons, as here, with spring favourites mixed with summer roses. Transience is emphasised by worm-eaten leaves; tropical shells warn of the vanity encouraged by wealth, only the rich being able to afford such exotica.

This article was originally published in Country Life, February 4, 2015

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