Breughel bouquets

Brueghel bouquet
Oil on board, 49 x 39 cm.  Museo del Prado, Madrid

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.

Indian Collecting Cochineal with a Deer Tail by José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez (1777).

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.

Female cochineal insects.

And cochineal coloring is still used to this day:

I’ll close with another beautiful floral rendering.  That color!  All from nature…

Oil on copper, 65 x 45 cm.  Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.


  • So beautiful! I learn something every time I read your posts. I didn’t know that the cochineal insect was the source of carmine red. Those reds are still so vivid and eye-catching.

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  • How did you get so smart? Just wondering. I think it must be your curiosity that gets you motivated to learn.

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    • A-ha! I did manage to make out the frog–and the pear, too–but until this morning didn’t see that sixth bug (in this case, the one on the brilliant red [cochineal?!] bloom mid-left). Thanks for making sure I took it all in…

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  • Hi Jeanne; Thanks for sharing. In addition to the vibrant colors, I love the way the clear glass vase was painted. I’m envious of such talents!! Dave


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  • The pollen is so real it makes me sneeze! Gorgeous vibrant colors. Loved getting to explore the painting using the magnifying widget. Thanks for sharing this

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