MIGNON, Abraham
(b. 1640, Frankfurt, d. 1679, Utrecht)

A Glass of Flowers and an Orange Twig

Oil on canvas, 88 X 67 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

This still-life, which was painted in the 1660s, shows a bulbous vase resting on a stone ledge. The arrangement in the vase contains a variety of flowers, including roses, carnations, irises, Chinese lanterns and poppies, interspersed with ears of corn, a stalk of blackberries and an orange twig. To the right is a wilting tulip, below which we see gooseberries and a thistle entwined by bindweed. A number of snails and insects, including butterflies and dragonflies, spiders, beetles, ants, bees and caterpillars, inhabit the picture. The thorny stems, magnified by the glass bowl as if by a reading glass, form a strong contrast to the rounded forms of the flowers with their soft, velvety petals.

Mignon's earlier vase paintings allow direct reference to de Heem's flower pieces, both in their arrangements as well as in the distribution of light and colour. In keeping with this, Mignon has arranged the flowers asymmetrically; the three prominent striped tulips create strong accents in the picture's upper half that are offset by the compact motif of the three roses at the left. The blades of grass, ears of corn and blackberry stalks contrast with the full, heavy blooms. Illumination comes from an outside source on the left that lights the canvas almost front on. Most strongly illuminated are the triple-rose motif and the carnation that hangs below the ledge. The monochrome background, which produces scarcely any depth, and the lack of a middleground heighten the plasticity of the flower arrangement in the foreground. A sense of space is further created by the ledge and the reflection of the studio window in the vase.

Seventeenth-century fruit and flower pieces are often interpreted as Vanitas still-lifes, in which the transience of all life is placed before the viewer. In the present example, the wilting flowers and the insects which devour and blight the flowers and fruit should be understood as Vanitas symbols. As so often, these references to transience can only be seen after a closer look at the work.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.