How to make a 17thC still-life

July 18 2016

Image of How to make a 17thC still-life

Picture: Hamilton Kerr Institute

Here's a fascinating piece of art detective-ry - a conservator at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge, Sven Van Dorst, has discovered on the back of a 17th Century still-life by Daniel Seghers a rare, partly begun example of a flower painting. In fact, it's thought to be the only example of a painting of this type left in its so-called 'dead-colouring' stage. The painting (above) is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. 

In order to discover more about how these pictures were painted, Sven (who is also an artist) set about completing the still-life, using a recreation of the dead-colouring stage as his starting point:

Seghers only needed a single paintlayer on top of the dead-colouring to model his flowers. The large flowers were painted on top of the bright underlayer, while the small flowers were painted directly on top of the dark background. The bright underlayer plays a key role in the final result. The vibrant colour of the red rose, for example, was achieved by applying a semi-transparant red lake on top of the red dead-colouring. The egg shape underneath the tulip is still visible in the final result, it is placed on the lighter side of the flower, whilst the shadow side was painted on top of the dark background. This way it was possible to create astonishing pictorial effects in a limited amount of time. Because the painting was executed in only one layer, on top of the dead-colouring, the brushwork and paint handling had to be executed with great care. The brushstrokes follow the shape of the flowers, giving a feeling of three dimensions. This aspect of the painting was especially difficult to imitate during the reconstruction because the consistency of the paint had to be adjusted to improve the paint handling.

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