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Balthasar van der Ast, Flowers in a Vase with Shells and Insects

Key facts
Full title Flowers in a Vase with Shells and Insects
Artist Balthasar van der Ast
Artist dates 1593/94 - 1657
Date made about 1630
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 47 × 36.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Gallery, 2003
Inventory number NG6593
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Flowers in a Vase with Shells and Insects
Balthasar van der Ast

This painting is a strange fiction: roses and tulips, lilac and snake’s head lilies, aren't all in bloom at the same time, so the artist would have made drawings and sketches of them at different times of the year, later incorporating them into the picture. Scientific exploration and discovery flourished in the Dutch Republic at this time. As in this painting, art and science often went hand in hand. Artists began to use the newly invented microscope to enable them to paint in accurate detail plants and insects – like the butterfly, the cricket and the wasp zooming down to the fallen rose petals.

What van der Ast paints is so realistic that the objects are almost tangible. In one way they are presented as scientific specimens, but in another as an unfading vision of nature that could never have existed in reality.

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