Skip to main content

Jan van Kessel the Elder, Insects with Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not

Key facts
Full title Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not
Artist Jan van Kessel the Elder
Artist dates 1626 - 1679
Series Two Paintings of Insects and Small Flowers
Date made 1654
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 11.8 × 14.7 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Gift from the collection of Willem Baron van Dedem, 2017
Inventory number NG6666
Location Room 17
Collection Main Collection
Insects with Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not
Jan van Kessel the Elder

Meticulously painted insects, flowers and berries are laid out on a plain creamy white surface without any overlap. Each specimen is carefully observed and identifiable. All of this might give us the idea that we are looking at a scientific illustration, but these insects appear very much alive: the seemingly casual arrangement, the light effects and the shadows cast give the objects a remarkably lifelike appearance.

The black veined white butterfly balances on the leaf on a common hawthorn; a caterpillar and an earwig crawl along its woody sprig. A common blue butterfly sits on a different leaf, while another rests on one of the juicy red berries. Other insects – a hornet, a yellow pied hoverfly, a garden tiger moth, two more earwigs, a dung beetle and a fire bug – are arranged in rows at the top and bottom of the panel, contrasting with the more natural looking arrangement of the insects and plants in the middle.

Download image
Download low-resolution image

Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.

License this image

License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.

License image
Download low-resolution image

This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.

Examples of non-commercial use are:

  • Research, private study, or for internal circulation within an educational organisation (such as a school, college or university)
  • Non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media

The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.

As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.

Download low-resolution image

You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.

Creative Commons Logo

Two Paintings of Insects and Small Flowers


Cabinets of curiosities, or Kunstkammern – the early ancestors of the modern museum – flourished in Renaissance Europe. These encyclopaedic collections of natural objects and artworks were regarded as a microcosm of the world, and Jan van Kessel’s detailed and lifelike representations of insects, flowers and plants conformed to this style of collection and display.

The artist’s paintings were highly sought after by collectors during his lifetime. His tiny still-life paintings were often produced as pairs; some originally formed part of a series of plates that could decorate the front of the small drawers of the cabinet in which a collector kept his specimens.

Van Kessel belonged to a famous dynasty of painters, and his style and technique are similar to that of his grandfather, Jan Brueghel the Elder.