All That Glistens

Jan van Kessel the Elder
Antwerp 1626 – 1679
Flowers, Berries and other Fruits on a Stone Ledge with a Finch and a Butterfly Nearby
oil on copper
6 ½ x 8 ⅝ inches
16.4 x 21.9 cm

Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626-1679) was born in Antwerp, the nephew of the landscape and flower painter Jan Brueghel the Elder. He studied with the history painter Simon de Vos and was a pupil of his famous uncle. In 1644 he became a member of the Antwerp painters guild of St. Luke where he is recorded as a painter of flowers. He achieved considerable social status and was a captain in the Antwerp civic guard.

In his own day, van Kessel was especially well known for his intimate paintings of insects, reptiles and cut flowers, often executed on copper (Rijksmuseum, SK-A-793; fig. 1). Their scientific naturalism owed much to the example of the botanical artist Joris Hofnagel, and reflects a sense of discovery, wonder, and urge to collect that resulted in the creation of many cabinets of curiosities in his time. Van Kessel was also well known for his oil paintings of allegorical scenes, for example of the four continents and for flower garlands surrounding figural and religious subjects, frequently by other artists.

Fig. 1 Jan van Kessel, Insects and Fruits, oil on copper, 10.9 x 14.6 cm. Rijksmuseum, SK-A-793

The present work is less scientific and is a typical table top still life popular at the time – a subject he often revisited and integrated into larger compositions (National Gallery of Denmark, KMSsp299; fig. 2). Its clarity and crisp details recall the work of the slightly earlier Flemish still life painter Osias Beert, but the viewpoint is lower and more in line with the tabletop still lives of Rubens’ pupil Frans Snyders. As with the Denmark canvas, van Kessel characteristically incorporates birds in motion with his fruit and flower pictures. The bird flying in from the left is a chaffinch, a symbol of joy and good things to come like the fruit on the table. The flowers are mostly tulips and roses and of decorative rather than scientific interest. The careful arrangement of overlapping blue and white Kraak porcelain – a type of Chinese export produced in the late Ming Dynasty, which became highly prized in the Dutch Republic following their import by the VOC. ❖

Fig. 2 Jan van Kessel the Elder, Fruit and Vegetable Market with a Young Fruit Seller, 1650-60, oil on canvas, 120 x 170 cm © National Gallery of Denmark, KMSsp299

London, Christie’s, 22 April 1988, lot 65

Acquired at the above sale by Mr. J. Boon

Private collection, Europe

Amsterdam, Christie’s, 8 November 2010, lot 26

Installation view of the present painting in All That Glistens
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