A beautiful spring day calls for a beautiful bouquet.
Jan Brueghel (1568 – 1625) painted in many genres, among them the floral still life; the one pictured above is my favorite.
Two things stand out. The first is the degree of precision and painstaking detail. It’s really astonishing. If you click here, you can view the painting on the Prado’s web site and use their widget to scan it at high magnification. You can practically see the individual grains of pollen on the stamens. And the insects, of which I count five, are also exquisitely rendered.
The second is the riot of vivid color. It’s easy to forget that, in 1597 or 1613 or whenever it was that Brueghel put brush to board to start this particular work, he wasn’t working with a tidily packaged set of oil paints he’d purchased at a local art supply store. He had likely made the paints himself, with or without the assistance of apprentices, and would have turned to the natural world for his colors: to minerals (e.g., malachite, for green), plant extracts (e.g., the root of the madder plant, rubia tentorium, for red), natural earth pigments like ochre, for yellow and brown, and even crushed insects (e.g., cochineal, for vivid crimson red). These materials were ground and then combined with binders such as linseed, nut or poppy oil.
Cochineal, a scale insect that lives on cacti, such as the prickly pear, in parts of South America, Mexico and Arizona, was brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500s, and remained a key source of red for painting and dying until the advent of organic chemistry and the aniline dye industry.
And cochineal coloring is still used to this day:
I’ll close with another beautiful floral rendering. That color! All from nature…