CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

The Kingdom of Flora

Exhibition: 8 June - 26 August 2012

Information from the museum

From 8th of June until 26rd of August in The Art museum Riga Bourse an exhibition “The Kingdom of Flora” will be open, where the visitors will get acquainted with the 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting.

The exhibition is formed from the MODUS VIVENDI collection in Moscow that has been assembled over the last twenty years through purchases of works by the old Dutch and Flemish masters in European auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The collection stands out with its purposeful selection of works and quality.

The Dutch and Flemish artists of the 17th century were the first to begin painting the still life as an independent genre branching out into many and various themes. The Dutch Golden Age is one of the highest peaks in the history of the development of this genre. In those days the paintings were not called still life but more simply – breakfast or lunch table, game, flowers in a vase – depending on the group of objects the artist had chosen to paint. The transient nature of earthly life was expressed in a special form of still life – vanitas, which always featured a skull, a lowly melting candle or a wilting rose.

Colourful wreaths of flowers could also form the frame around a figural composition glorifying the Virgin Mary, for example, or reminding us of Christ’s thorny path (a thorny rose or hyacinth). The still life, like rarely any other genre, also reveals the dual nature of objects – that what we see is not always the true essence of the thing. Already in the 16th century, Erasmus of Rotterdam mentions that any thing has two faces, which are not always similar to each other. From the works of this and other philosophers, we can talk about the perception of life at the time and hence, the symbolic meaning searched for in still life painting. However, this world is already partly closed to the viewer of today because, depending on the customer’s and artist’s wishes, one and the same flower could acquire a different symbolic interpretation. For example, a tulip could represent a too temporal enthusiasm for passing things; it could symbolise love or rejection, or only a portrait of a concrete flower commissioned by a breeder as a memento. Independently of the hidden meaning behind each work, the viewer of every generation has the opportunity to enjoy outstanding painting.

The MODUS VIVENDI collection can boast of several works by members of the famous Breughel family – Jan Breughel II (1601-1678), his son Jan Pieter Brueghel (1628-1664) as well as paintings by their contemporaries Gualterus Gysaerts (1649-1694) and Jan Philip van Thielen (1618-1667). The work of Flemish still life painters, especially those from Antwerp, can be seen over a relatively broad time span because several of the masters, such as Jan Baptist Bosschaert II (1667-1746), Gaspar Pieter Verbruggen II (1664-1730) and Pieter Castells III (1684-1749) also worked in the early 18th century, painting was more decorative and the execution of tiny details more natural.

The Dutch still life masters are represented by the Utrecht painter and botanical illustrator Alida Withos (1659-1730) who worked in a somewhat different manner and the Haarlem artist Jacoba Maria van Nickelen (1680/1700-1749 ). It should be emphasised that 17th century works by female painters are very rare.

The authors of the concept of the exhibition have seen it as being in two circles – the outer and inner. The inner is formed by paintings with floral motifs and the outer, by Dutch and Flemish 17th century art in its broadest spectrum.

The MODUS VIVENDI collection also includes landscapes, portraits, genre painting, historical and battle scenes creating a general overview of the Golden Age and its masters. The 17th century Netherlands were characterised by rapid economic growth that was fertile ground for an increase in commissions from the masters of the Guild of St. Luke in which the artists had united. Although works with historical and religious were still produced, this period saw more of a turn to temporal life which manifested itself in countless genre paintings ranging from scenes of elegance to peasants carousing. Landscape painting flourished especially highlighting the lyricism and beauty of the local vista. Many portraits were commissioned. Paintings became an inalienable part of the interiors of the homes of not only the aristocracy but also of wealthy merchants. Demand stimulated competition and the growth of talent. Public support grew and as a result, the history of art
experienced one of its most brilliant periods. Flemish artists were working just as successfully at this time and the works of their most illustrious masters were commissioned by many European courts.

In these exhibition viewers can familiarise themselves with the genre scenes with still life elements by Peter de Blot (1601-1658) and Floris van Schooten (1580/1588-1656), Erasmus Quellinus II (1607-1678) religious painting Mysteries of St. Catherine’s, Portrait of a man by Carel de Moor (1656-1738), the interior paintings by Pieter Neefs the Elder (1578-1656/1661) and Pieter Neefs the Younger (1620-1675), elegant scenes by Christoph van der Lamen (1606-1652) and Jan van Kessel (1620-1661); there are Jan Pauwel Gillemans I (1618-1675) still life with lobsters, oysters and lemons, Pieter van Bloemen (1657-1720), Jan van der Bent (1650-1690) and Frederic de Moucheron’s (1634-1686) Arcadian and Italianising landscapes, Ludolf Backhuysen’s (1631-1708) billowing sea as well as works by many other authors.