Among a selection of Renaissance era religious scenes and European Baroque master works, Sotheby’s Old Masters private sales department is now offering a small, meticulously painted floral still life by enigmatic Flemish painter Christoffel van den Berghe with an asking price of $1.2M.
Van den Berghe produced works in what was known as the prime era of 16th century Baroque painting. Rediscovered only in the 1950s, much of Van den Berghe’s life remains a mystery. A skilled landscape painter showing the influence of Jan Brueghel, the artists hyper-detailed painting is one of only four by the artist that are known to exist.
Despite little record of the artist’s career, he is believed to have been a member of the Middelburg guild of Saint Luke in the early 1620s. The work on offer shares key elements of another still painting dated 1624 titled Still Life with Dead Birds belonging to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The tulips work last changed hands in July 2013, in a Sotheby’s Old Masters evening sale, where it made $956,196, going for triple its low estimate of $250,000 and appreciating by 261% since its original sale in 2003 when it was bought for $332,800.
Another similar work dated 1617, depicting a version of the stretched striped tulips is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Each of the works share an air of old-world drama, set against dark backgrounds, featuring a densely arranged set of highly detailed florals in a brightly lit foreground. The work is reminiscent of Flemish painters, Ambrosius Bosschaert and Roelant Savery, who lived in the Dutch Republic during the same period. Van de Berghe’s flowers are native to different countries and seasons making the bouquet depicted an impossible arrangement in real-life. Hyperreal and embellished with calculated touch, the bouquet is a signature example of the brief era of Dutch still life genre painting that came at a time of rapid social and economic progress.
The rise of still-life painting in Netherlands, principally in Antwerp, Middelburg, Haarlem, Leiden coincides with a rapidly urbanizing Dutch society, accompanied by a growing emphasis on trade and commerce, which brought on a rising cultivation of the domestic realm and personal wealth. Following this economic boom came a taste for images of private luxury that could also serve to represent the nation’s ideals and moral code. For collectors of Dutch still lifes, the paintings served as way to indulge in opulence while espousing religious virtues. Embedded among signs of refinement—pointing to vices of the material world— wilting flowers, hidden animalia, and rotting fruit served as emblems of earthly transience.