Scholarly Horizons: University of Minnesota, Morris Undergraduate Journal


There are many 17th-century Dutch flower still life paintings, and if you pass by one quickly during a visit at a museum, you may see nothing more than a bouquet of arranged flowers. But if you stop at one and look long enough, you will find visual treats that would have been missed when only glancing at the piece. Maybe you’d see the careful composition, or perhaps a shell or a figurine. Most often, however, you will discover insects; some are hidden in the bouquet, and some are very prominently displayed on top of the flowers or on a ledge. The inclusion of insects in Dutch still lifes is quite common, which provokes the question: why did painters include insects in their flower still life paintings? There are many interpretations: insects contribute to religious symbolism, or they were chosen for their visual complexity or their rarity. Yet the insects included were common to the Netherlands and one could argue that all the elements in floral compositions were chosen for complexity. Instead, as I will show in this study, insects were used by the painters to create microcosmic worlds that represented the painter’s ideals and Dutch identity.