Students will imagine they are one of the bugs in Oosterwyck’s painting Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase and write or tell about the adventures they had while the people in the house slept.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 45 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- point out at least three different details in the painting;
- find at least two different insects; and
- feel comfortable using their imaginations to tell or write a story.
- Warm-up: Have the children look closely at the painting and find all of the bugs. Then, using the dodecahedron, have volunteers pick a side of the dodecahedron one at a time and find everything in the painting they can that fits the word.
- Have students pick one of the bugs and tell about its experiences with the flower arrangement in a “While you were sleeping…” letter to a friend. Which flowers did it enjoy eating or crawling around on most? Which leaves? Why? What colors did it see? Did it fly or crawl along the arrangement? Did it crawl down the side of the vase and onto the table? If so, how did those surfaces feel? You may want to bring in real flowers similar to some of the ones in the painting to help children describe what it might feel like crawling around them. Younger students can get into groups and simply tell their stories versus writing them down.
- Allow students time to share and edit their stories in small groups.
- Ask for volunteers to read their stories to the class.
- Lined paper and pencil/pen for each student
- Dodecahedron with the following words written on it: yellow, pink, red, green, gray, white, black, soft, scratchy, bumpy, rough, and smooth
- About the Art section on Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase
- One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
- Writing and Composition
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Maria van Oosterwyck was born in Holland in 1630, the daughter of a well-to-do Protestant clergyman and his wife. She never married, though she was courted by another flower painter, Willem van Aelst. According to one source, van Aelst eventually gave up because she was so devoted to her career. Female artists were rare in the 1600s, but that didn’t keep Oosterwyck from success. Her paintings were bought by royalty, including King Louis XIV of France and King William III of England, and almost always fetched high prices.
Oosterwyck’s still-life studies included a range of objects such as glassware, coins, musical instruments, and flowers. She created complex images with lots of details, and was skilled at portraying light and reflections. She was particularly well-known for her flower paintings, and was able to capture the detail of individual flowers and foliage by sketching straight from the source. The bouquet in this painting would have been impossible to construct in real life because the flowers bloom in different seasons. Tulips, for example, bloom in the spring, while sunflowers bloom in the summer. Oosterwyck would have assembled this image of a fantasy bouquet from individual sketches she made in outdoor gardens.
What Inspired It?
During Oosterwyck’s time, the Dutch were crazy about flowers. Flowers were rare in Holland, and very expensive. Flower bulbs and seeds had to be imported from the East, and only the wealthy could afford flower gardens. As a result, flowers, especially tulips, became symbols of status.
Since only the wealthy could actually afford to buy flowers, flower paintings were a relatively “cheap” alternative and served a number of purposes. Flower paintings lasted longer than real blooms, and people enjoyed them as a reminder of spring during the cold Dutch winters. They also served as a demonstration of God’s bounty. Variety was especially valued in flower paintings—it was believed that only variety could make an image beautiful and delightful. Variety is achieved here through the portrayal of many different types of blossoms, the inclusion of foliage, the positioning of the flowers, and the inclusion of plants in different stages of growth and decay.
The devoutly religious Oosterwyck may have hidden a deeper meaning in our painting. In Oosterwyck’s time, flowers that turned their faces toward the sun were compared to faithful souls who followed God. Notice how the tulip bends around to face the sunflower. Huge sunflowers, with their rays of bright yellow petals, sometimes represented the sun. Some scholars have suggested that Oosterwyck was painting a faithful soul looking to God.
In the top right corner of the painting we see a leaf that has been eaten by insects. A white rose in the center of the bouquet is nearing the end of its life. Notice the small nick in the stone ledge upon which the bouquet sits. All of these things are signs of decay, and serve as reminders that all worldly things will die.
Look closely at the vase and you will notice the reflection of a window.
In each leaf we see individual veins, crisp edges, and the irregular coloration found in nature. During the 1600s, there was a keen interest in botany. Artists were often commissioned to illustrate botanical books and catalogues for flower sellers. Many of the people who bought flower paintings were wealthy gardeners who knew the anatomy of flowers well and wanted to see the botanical details.
Covering the surface of the painting is a tiny network of cracks called craquelure. As paintings age, the paint or varnish will expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity, and tiny cracks will begin to develop. Craquelure is seldom disfiguring and is simply regarded as a characteristic feature of older paintings.
Look for butterflies, an earwig, a honeybee, and a beetle. The insects in this image are another indication of the 17th century fascination with the natural world.
Oosterwyck applied the paint thinly, creating a smooth canvas. There are no ridges, lumps, or trails of paint to indicate Oosterwyck’s process. Notice how the red and white colors of the carnation do not merely exist side by side, but flow into one another gradually.