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Roelandt Savery (Kortrijk 1576-1639 Utrecht), ‘Irises, lilies, wallflowers, forget-me-nots, roses, and other flowers in a glass vase with a lizard and sea holly in a stone niche’, signed ‘ROELANDT SAVERY …’ (lower center, on the ledge),oil on copper, 12 x 9¼ in. (30.5 x 23.5 cm.). Estimate $300,000 – $500,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015

Provenance: with Eugene Slatter Gallery, London, c. 1957, whence probably acquired by the following.
Private collection, London, and by descent.

Literature: K.J. Müllenmeister, Roelant Savery, Die Gemälde mit Kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen, 1988, no. 292, pp. 340-341.

Notes: Famed for the miniaturist precision which characterizes his paintings, drawings, and etchings, Roelandt Savery was active in the Netherlands from the turn of the 17th century. From as early as 1604 he is documented in Prague, where he had been summoned to the court of Rudolf II and worked alongside the painters Bartholomeus Spranger and Hans von Aachen, the silversmith Paulus van Vianen, and the sculptor Adriaen de Vries, among many other great artists, scientists, and thinkers.

Still-life pictures depicting elaborate bouquets of flowers in stone niches figure among Savery’s earliest works; two pictures which date to 1600 have in fact been identified as the earliest dated, independent flower paintings in Netherlandish art. It is possible, in fact, that it was Savery’s work in this genre which caught the attention of Rudolf II, a renowned collector and admirer of flower-pieces who needed a successor to the great Joris Hoefnagel – famed for the scientific naturalism which characterized his depictions of flowers, insects, and animals – who had died in 1600. In 1606-1607 Savery was sent by Rudolf into Bohemia and the Alps, where he drew mountain peaks, waterfalls, and other natural wonders that figure in some of his most brilliant landscapes and inform his sparkling depictions of insects and reptiles in later flower-pieces (an album of drawings made during this trip was later owned by Rembrandt). Other works from this period, such as the Flowers in a Niche of 1611 (England, private collection, Müllenmeister no. 272) were clearly inspired not from life but from marvelous works available for study in Rudolf’s collection, such as the watercolor and gouache drawings in Joris Hoefnagel’s emblematic natural history compendium The Four Elements(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.). Towards the end of his life, after settling in Utrecht in 1619, Savery turned increasingly towards flower-pieces, which culminated in the extravagant Bouquet in a Niche of 1624 (Utrecht, Centraal Museum), whose allusions to the brevity of life give the painting a vanitas character.

The present work, dated by Müllenmeister to Roelandt’s time in Prague, c. 1612, has been alternatively dated by Fred G. Meijer to the 1620s, after the artist had moved to Utrecht and nearer the end of his life. Its inclusion of a number of unusual flower species as well as several wilting blooms suggests that it, like the Utrecht picture, may be open to a Christian interpretation. The prominent iris at center, for example, often figures in Netherlandish art as a symbol of Christ’s Passion and Mary’s suffering at the loss of her son, while lilies were frequently used as symbols of Mary’s purity. The flower-pieces Savery produced during this period had a great effect on younger artists like Jacob Marrel, but his larger body of work had more widespread influence, inspiring painters such as Gillis d’Hondecoeter, Allaert van Evedingen, Herman Saftleven II, and Jacob van Ruisdael.

Christie’s. OLD MASTER PAINTINGS PART I, 28 January 2015,New York, Rockefeller Plaza