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Rachel Ruysch, Fruit and Insects

Rachel Ruysch, Fruit and Insects, 1711, oil on wood, 44 x 60 cm (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence); speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Steven Zucker and Beth Harris.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ari Mendelson
    At , the landing butterfly is about to have a close encounter with the lizard. Would that be considered a memento mori?
    (11 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Matsuyama
      I don't think so. A memento mori is symbol of the inevitability of death especial human. Artists usually show it with bones or a skull. Here both animals are very much alive and we don't know what it going to happen next. The butterfly's death is not inevitable, it could escape or fly away, so it can't be considered a memento mori.
      (9 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Sarah Martin
    what I have never understood how she was able to paint these so clearly ... It's as if there are no brushstrokes ... did she use the technique of glazing?
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Betty :)
      Vanitas painters used a lot of oil paints, which are well known for their ability to slowly dry, and layer upon one another. These painters likely used thin coats or glazes of oil paints to create their works to this point of detail.
      (4 votes)
  • leaf grey style avatar for user Edward M. Van Court
    Why do you separate art and science? Prior to the camera, scientists had to be formally competent artists, as they would, as you pointed out, do their own illustrations. Note that Beatrix Potter was a competent scientist, despite having to have a man present her research. Her knowledge of nature show in her watercolors the way the scientific influences on Ruysh show in this painting.
    (4 votes)
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  • sneak peak green style avatar for user Cybernetic Organism
    What would these insects symbolize? What is their symbolic value?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ari Mendelson
    At , you said that this painting was taken from studies of the various elements that constitute the painting rather than of a scene assembled on a table. Is that because the painting would have taken so long to execute that the fruit would have been rotten by the time she finished?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Don Carter
      No, I think it would be impossible to capture all of the specific details of each of the fruits and insects and impossible to set forth the role of light and shadow and of imagination and reality that is represented on this canvas. I am happy to see that a woman has presented this subject manner in both a scientifically accurate rendition and with an alluring emotional series of overtones.
      (1 vote)
  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Chris Fedele
    Why exactly did her paintings sell for "double" that of
    Rembrandt ?
    Hard to envision that !
    (1 vote)
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  • boggle purple style avatar for user Rvoo
    Is the dark background an influence of Caravaggian lighting or just to make the subject pop?
    (1 vote)
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  • leafers seedling style avatar for user writersurprise
    Isnt this painting a reflection of lifein general? The fruits , food ,wine. harvest. The butterfly..life or death. Everthing depends on some thing to sustain life. Love this art work.
    (0 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user haleylau
    Is their any other religious symbols, that could be clearly to her (protestant) beliefs (I presume she's Protestant)? not really sure...
    (0 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      The wheat and grapes, or bread and wine, as symbols of the Eucharist in Christianity are ubiquitous to protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. If the wheat and grapes in this painting are, indeed, allegories of the Eucharist, they are an ecumenical allegory, open to all branches of Christianity.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Alyssa  Moore
    What Art Historical period would this be considered?
    (0 votes)
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Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) Steven: We're in Uffizi, and we're looking at a still life painting by a Dutch artist whose name is Rachel Ruysch. Beth: Ruysch was incredibly successful during her very long career. She painted from a time she was in her teens until she was in her 80s. Steven: More then 60 years. And you can see why her paintings were so widely popular. In fact, her paintings regularly sold for double what Rembrandt's paintings sold for. Beth: In Holland, artists specialized in certain types of paintings, artists like Rembrandt painted portraits, others, like Rachel Ruysch painted still life paintings, others like Ruisdael painted landscapes. They were painting for a widening merchant class in 17th century Holland. Steven: She specialized in flowers, but this particular painting is fruit and insects. Beth: And it seems to be about the Autumn, the subject of the harvest, fruits and vegetables that are harvested in the Autumn. Corn, we have squash. Steven: Chestnuts and grapes, but also wheat and this reminds us that still lifes were often not only simple representations of items that might be put on the table, but would have symbolic value. Beth: Any Christian looking at this painting in the 17th century would have seen the wheat and the grapes and thought of the Eucharist, of the sacrament of communion of the body and blood of Christ. Steven: The bread and wine. Beth: And it's also important to realize that this is not just a scene that she would have assembled on the table and painted. This is likely a composite of studies of grapes, studies of peaches, studies of plums, studies of a nest with eggs in it, studies of a butterfly, that are then combined imaginatively into this composition. Steven: Into a microcosm. This was a time in the late 17th and early 18th century, when the microscope was perfected and we were looking into worlds beyond what we have known before. Beth: And the scientific interest into categorizing the natural world and looking closely at it and in fact a great example of this is Rachel's own father, Frederick Ruysch. Steven: He was one of the most famous scientists of his days, specialized in botany and the study of anatomy, especially human anatomy. Beth: And he was an artist, he had a cabinet of curiosities, a collection of natural wonders, that he published and illustrated himself. Steven: Rachel's mother on the other hand was the daughter of one of the most famous architects in the Netherlands at this time. A perfect preparation for a woman who would spend her long life looking at infinitely small details of the natural world. Beth: And painting these things as though as if they were scientific specimens. Steven: But bringing them together in beautiful compositions. Beth: What I notice are the color harmonies, so we have these reds and greens, red and green are complimentary colors, the green grapes on one side, the red on the other. Balanced by the red plums on the other side of the composition. Steven: You can see them also within individual elements, look for instance at the bunch of grapes on the right side, those red-purple grapes, except they have a little bit of a dust powder blue and we see the same thing in the plum on th extreme left. Beth: The butterfly in the foreground, maybe it's a moth, that's just landing is a good reminder that Rachel's father, Frederick collected specimens like butterflies and preserved them and in fact was a master at preserving parts of human anatomy and animal insect species and had such a famous collection that he sold it to Peter the Great, the Tzar of Russia. Steven: I love that butterfly, it looks as it is just about to land, but perhaps having second thoughts because there is a salamander or a small lizard. Beth: That idea that you mentioned before, of a world of its own. Steven: This is a painting that is about slow, careful discovery and this is an artist whose mastery rewards the patient observer. (jazzy piano music)