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25 of 7,993

Otto Marseus van Schrieck

(Dutch, 1619/20–1678)

Still Life with Thistle

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Object Details

Artist

Otto Marseus van Schrieck

Date

ca. 1670

Medium

Oil on canvas

Dimensions

49 x 38 1/2 inches (124.5 x 97.8 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of H. A. Metzger, Class of 1921, and Evelyn B. Metzger

Object
Number

60.195

This monumental portrait of a thistle was conserved in 2017 by West Lake Conservators in Skaneateles(…)

This monumental portrait of a thistle was conserved in 2017 by West Lake Conservators in Skaneateles. It illustrates the fascination with the natural world and its careful documentation that characterizes so much of Dutch science and culture in the seventeenth century. Marseus van Schrieck invented the genre of sottobosco, or “forest floor” painting, which encouraged viewers to lower their gaze to ground level and consider the domain of mushrooms, insects, slugs, snails, and small reptiles and amphibians. He was as fascinated with rendering these creatures as he was in describing their interactions. The artist’s nose-to-the-ground focus earned him the nickname “The Sniffer.” Pioneering Cornell Professor of Entomology Thomas Eisner (1929–2011) identified several of the butterfly species in this painting, including the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae), and the mustard white (Pieris rapi), all of which are found in both the Old and New World. (“Highlights from the Collection: 45 Years at the Johnson,” curated by Stephanie Wiles and presented at the Johnson Museum January 27–July 22, 2018)This monumental portrait of a thistle illustrates the fascination with the natural world and with its careful documentation that characterizes so much of Dutch science and culture in the seventeenth century. It was then that Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, the developer of the microscope, lived, and the line between artist and scientist was not as hard and fast as it was to become later on. For example, Johannes Goedaert was a professional painter who illustrated his own important book on moths. Maseus van Schrieck worked in Florence and Rome between 1648 and 1663, and he also visited England and France. He was fascinated by the world of grasshoppers and lizards, butterflies and weeds, and kept a small terrarium to observe these little dramas firsthand. This unusually elaborate and ambitious composition is the kind of work that impressed not only the Grand Duke of Tuscany, for whom he worked, but also the artist-scientist Maria Sybilla Merian, who created both text and images for her monumental publication on the insects of Surinam, as well as other artists of the time. (From “A Handbook of the Collection: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art,” 1998)

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