Christoffel van den Berghe

Still life with a bouquet of tulips, roses, columbine and other flowers in a silver-gilt-mounted porcelain vase, with a butterfly on a wooden table

Oil on copper: 12.1(h) x 8.1(w) in /

30.8(h) x 20.6(w) cm

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SP 5335

 

CHRISTOFFEL VAN DEN BERGHE

Fl. Middelburg before 1617-1628

 

Still life with a bouquet of tulips, roses, columbine and other flowers in a silver-gilt-mounted porcelain vase, with a butterfly on a wooden table

 

Oil on copper 12 ⅛ x 8 ⅛ in / 30.8 x 20.6 cm

Frame size: 18 x 14 in / 45.7 x 35.6 cm

 

Painted circa 1616-17

 

Provenance:

Private collection, UK;

Richard Green, London, 1999;

private collection, USA

Private collection, Spain;

by descent

 

 

This early Dutch still-life painting depicts flowers in a silver-gilt mounted Ming period porcelain vase with a rose decoration, on a plain table. The bouquet includes variegated tulips, roses, an iris, anemone, columbine, narcissi, forget-me-not, poppy anemone, crocus and lilac, a mixture of spring and early summer flowers. A Queen of Spain fritillary, a White Ermine and a Magpie butterfly, as well as some other small insects, enliven the image. The White Ermine butterfly sits on a bare rose branch to the left of the vase, while a sprig of rose petals lies to its right.

 

This little flower painting shows marked similarities with floral bouquets by two artists working in Middelburg in the early seventeenth century: Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621) and Christoffel van den Berghe. Bosschaert’s life and work are well documented: he worked in Middelburg until about 1614, subsequently moving to Bergen op Zoom and shortly after that to Utrecht. His known oeuvre consists of fewer than 75 still lifes, most of them flower pictures. Although the image of this little flower painting is evidently related to Bosschaert’s style, the handling differs from his.

 

Christoffel van den Berghe’s life and oeuvre are less well documented. He was recorded as a member of the Middelburg guild in 1619 and 1621, and was still living in that town in 1628, after which date nothing is known of him. Important landmarks in his small known oeuvre are two signed and dated still lifes: a magnificent floral bouquet from 1618 in the Philadelphia Museum of Art [1] and a still life with dead game and fruit from 1624 in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles [2]. Apart from some five signed or securely attributed flower paintings, the 1624 still life, and a few less securely attributed flower pieces, a number of small landscapes by Christoffel van den Berghe is known. Given the high quality of the 1618 flower painting in Philadelphia, the artist must have been active already several years before that date.

 

The tulips in the flower painting under discussion here show a strong similarity in type and execution with the tulips in Christoffel van den Berghe’s 1618 masterpiece [1]. Particularly the two white-and-red tulips possess the same smooth, waxy quality, while they also share their somewhat elongated shape. Other similarities are the density of the bouquet and the lighting: the flowers are similarly set against a very dark background, rather evenly and brightly lit themselves. The effect is more dramatic in the Philadelphia painting, however, owing to the side of the niche catching the full light. The palette of both bouquets is also quite similar, with white and strong yellow accents, interspaced by reds. An interesting similarity, in this respect, is the single dark blue flower, imbedded rather prominently in the lower half of each of the floral arrangements.

 

There are also differences, however. On the whole, the execution of the Philadelphia piece is smoother, almost slick, not only for most of the flowers, but also for the foliage. This suggests that this picture – assuming that it is by van den Berghe – belongs to a somewhat earlier stage in his development. This also seems to concur with the fact that the Philadelphia flower piece – apart from borrowing the iris at the top – does not show a very apparent relationship with the work of Ambrosius Bosschaert, while this flower picture does. In fact, influences can most of all be traced back to Bosschaert’s earlier flower paintings, from c.1605 to c.1610, which date securely from his Middelburg period, several of which, as such, van den Berghe may well have known first-hand.

 

Bosschaert’s earliest known dated floral bouquet, from 1605 [3], is set in a globular porcelain vase which is quite similar to this one, while Bosschaert also included smoothly painted, elongated white-and-red tulips in several of his bouquets [4-5]. It seems that van den Berghe did in fact borrow one flower from Bosschaert: the yellow-and-red tulip at top right also features in a Bosschaert bouquet from 1608 [6].

 

No other direct relationship with Bosschaert’s work can be shown in this piece and, unfortunately, none of the same flowers occur in the few known signed floral pictures by Christoffel van den Berghe, but there is sufficient similarity to allow the conclusion that this painting is by the same hand as the signed examples.

 

The above leads to a supposed chronology for Christoffel van den Berghe’s flower pieces, which culminates in the 1618 masterpiece. In this chronology, the present flower piece fits well. This suggested chronology supposes that van den Berghe gradually refined his handling until c.1618, after which he headed for more elaborate, ‘modern’ compositions.

 

As demonstrated above, the characteristics of the flower painting discussed here fit for Middelburg after c.1610 – in view of the Bosschaert influences and, in relation to Christoffel van den Berghe’s Philadelphia bouquet, before 1618. In this context, too, Christoffel van den Berghe authorship and a date of c.1616/17 are fully plausible.

 

NB. Photocopies of the pictures mentioned in this report (numbered [x]) are included.

 

Fred G Meijer, Senior Curator of Old Dutch and Flemish Painting, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague.

 

Old MasterChristoffel van den Berghe