February 26, 2011

Flowers at the Met: Thinking of Spring

Vase, Ming Dynasty, 1522-66; porcelain painted in underglaze blue and overglaze yellow and red enamels.

Vase, Qing Dynasty, late 17th-early 18th century; porcelain painted in enamels on the biscuit.

It has been a long, cold, snowy winter here in the Northeast, so when I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week, I thought I'd give myself and my readers a treat by photographing flowers. I wandered through the museum's collections, gathering flowers as I went. Some of my favorite things in the museum are the Chinese porcelains, and here are two examples with beautiful floral designs: the Ming vase with stylized patterning, the Qing with a more naturalistic rendering of white spring blossoms, dramatic against black.

Balthazar van der Ast, Dutch, Wan-Li Vase with Flowers, ca. 1624; oil on panel, (detail).

A sprig of lily-of-the-valley, so evocative of Spring, rests on a table under a vase filled with more luxurious flowers.

Hans Memling, The Annunciation, ca. 1464; oil on wood, (detail).

The graceful, nodding white blossoms of the Easter lily are a symbol of the Virgin Mary.

Bernaert van Orley, Netherlandish, Virgin and Child with Angels, 1505; oil on wood, (detail).

On the ground, next to the Virgin's blue robe, the flowers and fruit of rebirth and spring: tiny wild strawberries.

Riza-i Abbasi, Study of a Bird, Iran, 1634; inks, colors, gold and silver on paper.

Although there are only two small red flowers, which look like tulips, in this delicate painting of a bird, for me the image speaks of the coming spring with returning birds and emerging new foliage.

Huqqa (water pipe) Base, The Deccan, India, last quarter of 17th century; zinc alloy inlaid with brass.

From India, a stylized vision of golden flowers on arching stems.

Bottle, North China, Northern Song period, 12th century; Stoneware with sgraffito design in slip under glaze. From the Rockefeller collection at Asia Society.

After the Met, I went to Asia Society to see a stunning exhibition of a Persian manuscript, and while there saw this stunning vase, which I couldn't resist including in this post. The grand dramatic patterns of black against white, the big gorgeous peony flower (my favorite flower, by the way), make this one of the most beautiful pieces of Chinese pottery I've seen. I will look at this and think of my peony border in June, really not that far off....


  1. Thanks for the floriferous break from winter. Very cold and rather snowy yesterday, so I appreciate this peek at such gorgeous plants.

  2. You're very welcome, Linda. When I got home yesterday, I had to trudge through snowdrifts up to my knees to get to the front door, and there was a little more snow last night. It doesn't look like winter is going away yet, so it's nice to see some flowers.

  3. What a feast for the eyes Altoon--knee deep in snow or otherwise! I'm taken with the way in which you discovered flowers across so many cultures; India, Persia, Holland, and China--it speaks to the delight we all find in the the blossoming world, a love that unites us as human beings.

  4. Hannah, that's what's so wonderful about the Met: you can see work from many cultures and centuries and there's always something new to discover. I do think flowers delight all cultures. I was thinking of the tulips in the Iranian bird study; they were likely species tulips and that was the time of the tulip craze in Holland, so not only images of flowers appear in all cultures, but the flowers themselves traveled.