Jan Brueghel the Elder was one of the first artists in the Habsburg Netherlands who started to paint pure flower still lifes. A pure flower still life depicts flowers, typically arranged in a vase or other vessel, as the principal subject of the picture, rather than as a subordinate part of another work such as a history painting. Jan Brueghel is regarded as an important contributor to the emerging genre of the flower piece in Northern art, a contribution that was already appreciated in his time when he received the nickname ‘Flower Brueghel’. While the traditional interpretation of these flower pieces was that they were vanitas symbols or allegories of transience with hidden meanings, it is now more common to interpret them as mere depictions of the natural world. Brueghel’s approach to these works was informed by his desire to display his skill in giving a realistic, almost scientific rendering of nature. These works reflected the ideological concerns demonstrated in his work, which combined the worldview that nature was a revelation of a god with the interest in gaining a scientific understanding of nature.
Starting with Brueghel 17th century flower still lifes are dominated by the floral arrangements, which are placed against a neutral dark background or a plain setting of a stone niche. Minor details such insects, butterflies, snails and separate sprays of flowers or rosemary may occasionally be added but are subordinate to the principal subject. While Brueghel sought out very rare flowers, he used certain common blooms such as tulips, irises and roses to anchor his bouquets. This may have been a response to his patrons’ wishes as well as compositional considerations. His bouquets were typically composed of flowers blooming in different seasons of the year so they could never have been painted together directly from nature. Brueghel was in the habit of traveling to make drawings of flowers that were not available in Antwerp, so that he could paint them into his bouquets. Brueghel rendered the flowers with an almost scientific precision. He arranged each flower with hardly any overlap so that they are shown off to their best advantage, and many are shown at different angles. The flowers are arranged by size with smaller ones at the bottom of the bouquet, larger flowers such as tulips, cornflowers, peonies and guelder roses in the centre and large flowers, such as white lilies and blue irises, at the top of the bouquet. Wikipedia Source