Symbolism in Dutch Baroque Art

February 11, 2017


Jan van Huysum, Dutch, Still Life of Flowers and Fruit (detail), c.1715, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston


Lately I have been fascinated with Dutch Baroque still life painting. Imagine my delight when I ran into this butterfly perched on a tulip in the midst of the a glorious floral arrangement at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, painted by one of my favorite artists Jan van Huysum. I was initially drawn to the painting because of  the artist's  technical virtuousity. His extreme realism is mesmerizing. Notice how the direction of his brushstroke convinces us that the petals of the tulip curl and bend while the most perfect highlight bounces off the stem. It was said that Van Huysum was widely successful as a painter but so secretive regarding his techniques that he refused to take any students.


In Baroque still life painting not only does an object have symbolic meaning but the pairing of objects offers yet a more profound contemplation. The tulip being a symbol of perfect and undying love depicted in conjunction with the butterfly, a symbol of personal transformation, means that while our physical presence may change, true love will endure.


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