I just made a strange discovery. Two days ago I wrote, in my post called Preparations, about Heikki Marila winning the Carnegie Art Award. Today I discovered what I suspect to be the foundation for Heikki Marila’s Kukat XIX, (2009). Just have a look at this:
Jan Davidsz de Heem, Vase of Flowers, c. 1660.
And then Marila again:
The tall white poppy, the two tulips to the right, the heavy red peony. A rose and a tulip to the left. It is a very similar composition.
This is what the National Gallery of Art (Washington) says about de Heem’s painting:
Gardening and the breeding of beautiful hybrids satisfied the Dutch interest in art and in science. Exotic flowers also indicated their far-flung explorations and their expertise in botany. In fact, a “tulip-mania” swept Holland soon after tulips were imported from Turkey in the 1550s. In 1637, Amsterdam’s commodity market in tulip bulbs crashed, causing capitalism’s first depression.
The thirty-one species of plants in this vase cannot bloom in the same season. Many of these blossoms have emblematic meanings. The upper flowers thrive in the sunshine that streams through De Heem’s studio windows which we see reflected in the crystal vase. The lower plants, farther away from the light of heaven, droop and wilt.
Near the bottom, a salamander stares hungrily at a spider, while a snail, moth, and ants crawl on the marble shelf. All these creatures symbolize night and decay. On the white poppy at the top, a caterpillar and butterfly evoke the idea of rebirth from a cocoon or tomb.
What would a good analysis of Marila’s work look like? One would of course have to discuss it in relation to its ancestor, but also in a contemporary setting – freed from the kind of symbolism so central to de Heem and his audience.