A header graphic with the following artwork information: Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640-1650, Tempera on vellum with traces of black pencil, 17 5/8 x 14 3/4 inches, 44.8 x 37.5 cm.
“See, O curious eye, epitomized in a brief and small canvas, the greatness of the universe.”

—Giovanna Garzoni in a letter to a patron, 1618

A painting by Giovanna Garzoni, titled Still life of flowers in a glass vase, dated circa 1640 to 1650.

Giovanna Garzoni

Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640-1650
Tempera painted on vellum with traces of black pencil
17 5/8 x 14 3/4 inches (44.8 x 37.5 cm)
Framed: 23 5/8 x 20 3/4 inches (60 x 52.7 cm)

The subject of an acclaimed exhibition at the Uffizi Gallery in 2020, Giovanna Garzoni (1600–1670) was one of the most renowned and accomplished still-life painters and miniaturists of the seventeenth century. One of the first women artists to master the art of still life painting, Garzoni is recognized as a pioneer of the genre and an important influence on subsequent generations of academic painters and artists.

Likely made while Garzoni was living in Florence and working for the Medici family, Still life of flowers in a glass vase (c. 1640–1650) is a highly detailed and sophisticated painting using tempera on vellum, a typical support material at the time, that reflects a range of artistic and scientific influences of the period. For much of its history, this work has been passed down through generations of the same family; its full provenance has been noted by Dr. Gerardo Casale, a specialist in Garzoni's work and author of her 1991 monograph. Three related works depicting flowers are part of the Uffizi Gallery’s collection.

A painting by Giovanna Garzoni, titled Self-Portrait, dated 1650

Giovanna Garzoni, Self-Portrait, c.1630–1632

Giovanna Garzoni, Self-Portrait, c.1630–1632

Garzoni showed immense artistic talent at a young age but was largely kept from creating large-scale religious or mythological paintings, as patrons at the time tended to commission such works from men. As a result, Garzoni turned to miniatures, scientific illustration, and still-life painting, which had only really emerged as a distinct genre in the late sixteenth century.

Over the course of her career, Garzoni spent time in Florence, Naples, Paris, Rome, Turin, and Venice, creating works for the Church and notable political and aristocratic patrons such as the Duke of Alcalá, the Duke of Savoy, and the Medicis.

Pre-Linnean herbarium, 1600. Milan, Museo Civico Di Storia Naturale

Pages from a Herbarium by Giovanna Garzoni, c.1630–1632. Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington, D.C.

Pages from a Herbarium by Giovanna Garzoni, c.1630–1632. Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington, D.C.

“She evinced a real curiosity and a real affinity for novel things, and new things, and strange things, and she didn’t segregate them into a kind of cold world of display. In her art, and in her life, she was trying to understand her place in relation to the rest of this big, fascinating world that people were in the process of discovering.”

—Sheila Barker, curator, quoted in Hyperallergic, 2020

A painting by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, titled Still-Life with flowers, dated 1617

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Still-Life with flowers, 1617. Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Still-Life with flowers, 1617. Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm

A painting by Balthasar van der Ast, titled Fruit Still Life with Shells and Tulip, dated 1620

Balthasar van der Ast, Fruit Still Life with Shells and Tulip, 1620. Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

Balthasar van der Ast, Fruit Still Life with Shells and Tulip, 1620. Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

Many of Garzoni's early commissions were for scientific illustrations, underscoring the growing interest in botany and scientific documentation and exploration during this time. Her early work shows the stylistic influence of Dutch Golden Age painters such as Ambrosius Bosschaert (1573–1621) and Balthasar van der Ast (1593–1657). In contrast with the dark grounds on which those artists tended to represent their subjects, Garzoni often depicted her floral bouquets against pale, light-filled backdrops.

Two paintings by Giovanna Garzoni: Vase of Flowers with Daffodils, Carnations and Anemones, 1642–1651 and Buffone con garofani e altri fiori su una base in pietra con pesca appoggiata, 1642–1651.
Related works by Giovanna Garzoni in the collection of the Uffizi Galleries, Florence. (L-R): Vase of Flowers with Daffodils, Carnations and Anemones, 1642–1651. Photo © Raffaello Bencini/Bridgeman Images; Buffone con garofani e altri fiori su una base in pietra con pesca appoggiata, 1642–1651
Related works by Giovanna Garzoni in the collection of the Uffizi Galleries, Florence. (L-R): Vase of Flowers with Daffodils, Carnations and Anemones, 1642–1651. Photo © Raffaello Bencini/Bridgeman Images; Buffone con garofani e altri fiori su una base in pietra con pesca appoggiata, 1642–1651
“We can retrace the complex technique used by Garzoni, which began with a rapid pencil sketch; this was completed in gouache, perhaps mixed with gum arabic, applied in firm, decided brush strokes or lighter, more minuscule touches and often accompanied by tiny, closely arranged dots in different colors. As the artist herself once lamented with a touch of pride... her paintings were truly 'works of great labor.'”

—Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi, “The Flowering of Florence: Botanical Art for the Medici,” in The Flowering of Florence: Botanical Art for the Medici, 2002

A detail from a painting by Giovanna Garzoni, titled Still life of flowers in a glass vase, dated circa 1640-1650.
Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)
Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)
A detail from a painting by Giovanna Garzoni, titled Still life of flowers in a glass vase, dated circa 1640-1650.
Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)
Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)

Painted on vellum, a type of parchment paper made from the skin of a lamb, young goat, or calf, the work shows a range of flowers gathered in a buffoni—a round glass vase that was popular at the time. Featuring a subtle balance between scientific realism and decorative effect, the flora depicted are narcissi, buttercups, daffodils, and expensive tulips, illustrating both the wealth and interests of Garzoni’s Medici patrons and the expanding networks of trade and exchange that were flourishing across Europe in the 17th Century. The exposed roots and dirt-like mound on which the vase stands—motifs seen also in related works from this period in the Uffizi collection—expose the flowers’ natural origins while also serving as a memento mori, a reminder of the ephemeral and fleeting nature of life.

A detail from a painting by Giovanna Garzoni, titled Still life of flowers in a glass vase, dated circa 1640-1650.

Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)

Giovanna Garzoni, Still life of flowers in a glass vase, c. 1640–1650 (detail)

The glass vase also brings the surrounding space into the frame of the image in a reflection which reveals a window—a nod to the world beyond the narrow view afforded here and a motif seen in many paintings of the time. The reflection also seems to show the light coming from the window projected against a wall. These elements perhaps signal Garzoni's awareness of the growing fields of optics and lens production. During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, optics was being revolutionized by figures such as Johannes Kepler, who in 1604 published the first treatise on the subject.

A painting by Pieter Claesz, titled  Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, circa 1628.

Pieter Claesz, Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, c.1628. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

Pieter Claesz, Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball, c.1628. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

A book by Georg Bartisch, titled Oφθαλμοδουλεια (translated to Ophthalmoduleia: das ist Augendienst), dated 1583

Georg Bartisch, οφθαλμο·δουλια (Ophthalmoduleia: das ist Augendienst), 1583

Georg Bartisch, οφθαλμο·δουλια (Ophthalmoduleia: das ist Augendienst), 1583

An Illustration of the theory of the retinal image in Rene Descartes’ La Dioptrique, dated 1637

Illustration of the theory of the retinal image in Rene Descartes’ La Dioptrique, 1637

Illustration of the theory of the retinal image in Rene Descartes’ La Dioptrique, 1637

The lens-like curvature of the vase may also allude to the eye itself, which thinkers of the time such as Georg Bartisch were analyzing in their scientific studies of vision. Here, the light from the window that appears to be doubled through its projection on a wall recalls how the lens of the eye projects an image onto the retina, which Kepler identified as the point at which sight begins. Through these various layers of symbolism, referentiality, visual allusion, and encoded meaning, this work exemplifies Garzoni's ability to transform the depiction of flowers in a vase into an expansive representation of the scientific, commercial, and theoretical pursuits of the day.

An installation view of a painting by Giovanna Garzoni, titled Still life of flowers in a glass vase, dated circa 1640-1650.
“Garzoni...experimented with, varied, and manipulated her subjects to create some of the most captivating and original still lifes of her time.”

—Oliver Tostmann, curator, in By Her Hand, Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1800, 2021

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