Blossoming Boijmans

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection contains more than 170 paintings with flower still lifes.

As an internship project, Penelope Erkamp has identified the flowers in the museum’s collection of paintings and prints. The majority of the paintings she has studied are flower still lifes, but she has also identified flowers in religious paintings and kitchen scenes.

Say it with flowers

In the history of painting, flowers often have a hidden symbolism. This is especially apparent in works with a religious theme. For example, the Virgin Mary is often shown with white lilies. This flower, which symbolises purity, represents her virginity.

Master of the Virgo inter Virgines, The Annunciation, 1470-1500, inv.no. 1568 (OK), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Master of the Virgo inter Virgines, The Annunciation, 1470-1500, inv.no. 1568 (OK), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Abraham van Beijeren, Sumptuous Still Life, 1654, oil on canvas, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1950
Abraham van Beijeren, Sumptuous Still Life, 1654, oil on canvas, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1950

But flowers also have a story to tell in still lifes. In many cases the theme is the impermanence and fragility of life. Sometimes other symbolic objects are added, such as withered flowers, animals or a watch.

Because of their symbolism, it is not unusual that we encounter many of the same flowers in these paintings. However, it is interesting to see that the artists have depicted the flowers in their own way, according to their personal style and the prevailing tastes of the time and locality. This allows us to identify in which period and in which part of Europe the painting was made. Flowers can tell us much more than you might expect.

Did you know

that many of the bouquets depicted in these paintings are unrealistic? Many of the compositions were invented because some of the flowers shown together do not bloom at the same time. For example, in this painting, with the title 'Basket of Flowers', you see both roses and tulips.

ALMA

You can search for all these beautiful flowers in the museum’s collection with ALMA - Art Meets Artefacts. All the identified flowers are indicated on the website. You will find an overview of all the identified paintings with a depiction of a specific flower, such as a rose, by searching for the name of the flower in Collection Boijmans Online. When you select a painting and click on the ‘discover ALMA’ button, all the identified flowers will be tagged.

Did you know

that the genre of flower still life painting only emerged in the 17th century? The oldest known flower painting dates from 1604 and was painted by Jacob de Gheyn II.