The flowers depicted in the present work, though common today, were rare in the early 17th century and highly coveted. Tulips, especially, were passionately collected and traded, with some of the more elaborate varieties going for astronomical prices. Probably first sent to Europe from the Ottoman Empire in 1554, by the late 16th century the tulip was already in high demand. Indeed, the higly speculative "tulipmania" bubble did not burst until 1637. With their intense and saturated colors, tulips were unlike any flowers known to Netherlandish horticulturalists of that period. Variegated tulips, with their delicately feathered patterns, were especially favored. Here Bosschaert has depicted two examples, one white with contrasting red markings and the other yellow with red, and has silhouetted them against the dark background so as to best display their shapes and colors. He has combined them with other specimens that he favored and used repeatedly in his compositions such as pink roses, columbine, hyacinth and pink cyclamen with its beautiful variegated leaves. Though not symmetrical, the bouquet is nonetheless balanced, with the tulip projecting out on the right side counterbalanced by the curved wings of the butterfly poised on the rose at left. The combination of these flowers is, of course, a fantasy and could not occur in nature as some are early spring bloomers and others appear much later in the season. Bosschaert’s astonishing precision and technical virtuosity is enhanced by use of a copper support, which gives the oil pigment an enamel-like quality, enhancing the luminous effects of his brushwork..... [This] still life marks a major step towards a more mature style. Bosschaert creates more space both around and between the flowers within the bouquet, giving a greater sense of depth. He has also now mastered the motif of depicting some flowers facing forward while others, such as the carnation at left, face away and seamlessly integrated it into the composition. The red and white variegated tulip is clearly emphasized as the topmost flower and there is overall more shape and balance in the arrangement.
....Ultimately, Bosschaert’s floral still lifes are much more than a scientifically precise depiction of rare and precious flowers. They were painted to delight the eye, bringing beauty and sensual pleasure all year round. As his contemporary Jan Brueghel the Elder wrote, in a letter written in August 1606, to Cardinal Borromeo in Milan regarding one of his own flower paintings: “it will be a fine sight in the winter.” (http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/masterworks-mellon-n09245/lot.33.html)
birdflowersflystill lifetulipoil on copper