Still Life with Tilted Basket of Fruit, Vase of Flowers, and Shells, Balthasar van der Ast, about 1640–45, oil on panel
Van der Ast specialized in still lifes of flowers, fruit, and exotic shells. On this panel, he painted eight kinds of fruit in a Chinese porcelain bowl set in a basket, 32 flower species in a German green glass vase, 11 seashells, two lizards, three insects, two spiders hanging from webs, and a parrot perched on a branch. Many of the flowers originated in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor and were later cultivated in Holland. Dutch collectors avidly acquired shells imported from the East and West Indies. Dutch still lifes often functioned as reminders of mortality. The flowers may be beautiful and vibrant and the fruit fresh and plump, but they will soon succumb to the passage of time.