A Study of Butterflies, Lizards, Beetles, and Other Insects (Primary Title)

Jan van Kessel, Flemish, 1626 - 1679 (Artist)

late 1650s
Oil on copper, laid down on panel
Unframed: 15 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. Framed: 22 1/2 x 29 1/8 x 2 7/8 in.
Jan van Kessel learned to paint flowers and insects with the accuracy of a scientific naturalist in the studio of his uncle, Jan Brueghel the Younger, in the 1640s. Following tradition, he studied specimens from life and supplemented his observations with printed publications when necessary. This trio of copper panels represents a veritable menagerie of exotic insects, lizards, and spiders, exposing subtle details to the naked eye that normally could only be seen under a microscope. In the larger panel, the artist spaced the specimens in regular intervals, mimicking real entomological displays in collector’s cabinets from the period. The two smaller panels reflect a more naturalistic approach, wherein the capricious behavior of the creatures occur around a branch of larkspur and a sprig of gooseberries. In the Christian context of 17th-century Netherlands, paintings of this kind were appreciated not only for their remarkable naturalism but also as tributes to God’s wisdom, reflecting the observation of the first-century Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder that “nature is nowhere more perfect than in the tiniest animals.”
The Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection

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