Kingdom of Flora

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In the middle of winter in Saint-Petersburg with severe weather and gloomy clouds, could one imagine seeing bunches of roses, tulips and lilies? Hardly found even in the summer in our northern city, these beautiful flowers are in full bloom on the paintings of the Dutch masters of the 17th – 18th century that are on display in the Rumyantsev palace.

The exhibition called ”Kingdom of Flora” was opened in mid-October 2013. Showing 22 paintings it allows visitors to enjoy rich, flourishing bouquets masterfully depicted by Dutch artists of the so-called Golden period of Dutch still life. The end of the 16th to beginning of the 17th century was the time when still life became an independent genre in the Southern and Northern Netherlands. However it didn’t receive a special name and in the beginning artists called their works just ”a vase with flowers” or ”fruits”.

Although many might think that such paintings had purely decorative purposes in fact they embodied the perception of the world and showed its philosophical understanding. Each flower and insect had a hidden meaning. For example, a red carnation symbolized engagement while a pink carnation was a sign of God’s good will. It means that Dutch still lifes could be interpreted in a theological sense. Lilies and irises were usually associated with Virgin Mary while the depiction of a butterfly hinted at a soul of a righteous man.

Among the works represented at the exhibition the so-called ”vanitas vanitatis” still lifes hold a special place. Those emphasize the frailty and temporality of people’s lives. Such ideas can be traced in the works by Egidius Nuemans and Alida Withos. Another type of Dutch still life is a depiction of Madonna or saints in the centre of the composition framed by garlands of flowers. Gualterus Gysaerts and Jan Philip Van Thielen were both famous for their paintings in this genre. They were contemporaries of Jan Breughel II, Jan Pieter Brueghel and Ferdinand Brueghel – members of the illustrious family whose works are also on display.

The exhibition will stay open until March 2014 and will welcome you with a beauty of bouquets painted by Dutch masters and a nice scent of real flowers placed in vases all over the show room.