Today was a cloudy, rainy day. Perfect for a visit at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The museum is well known for its collection of art from the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age. The museum has paintings from Rembrandt, Jan Steen and Vermeer. There is also a very nice collection of paintings from the 15th and 16th century. The official name of the Mauritshuis is the Royal Picture Gallery which points to a royal connection. The collection has been in the Mauritshuis since 1822 and started out with about 200 works, nowadays the collection apprises about 800 paintings.
The Friends of the Mauritshuis Foundation bought a unique painting for the collection: a flower still life by the German painter Ludger tom Ring the Yournger (1522-1584): Narcissi, Periwinkle and Violets in a Ewer. It was painted around 1562.The panel is an unusually early example of an independent flower still life, making it extremely rare. You can find the painting on the first floor in room 7.
Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Mauritshuis: “An early sixteenth-century painted flower still life such as this acquisition is a first for the Mauritshuis and for any Dutch public collection. The Mauritshuis has been seeking to add such a painting to its collection for some time. Ludger tom Ring’s works have not been represented in any Dutch collection – until today. We are extremely thankful to our Friends for acquiring this painting and placing it on loan to the Mauritshuis”.
A particularly early bouquet
Independent flower still lifes painted before 1600 are a rarity. Until that time, bouquets appeared at most as part of a larger work, such as a representation of the Virgin Mary. A painting that is often named as the first independent flower still life is a panel by Hans Memling, but this bouquet from around 1485-1490 was painted on the back of a man’s portrait. Originally, that portrait was part of a diptych featuring Mary, such that the flower still life could only be seen when the panels were closed.
After 1600, flowers became a popular independent subject in paintings. Artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder then started painting flower still lifes at about the same time. Ludger tom Ring anticipated this trend by about forty years. He was therefore a pioneer, and painted only six other flower still lifes aside from this acquisition, all of which are in foreign collections.
In order to ascertain which flowers are represented in the painting, my collegues at the Hortus botanicus in Leiden studied the painting together with Eric Breed, an expert on bulbous plants. As a result, we now know that the tall ewer contains a bouquet of narcissi, periwinkle and violets. On the table lay a single violet, some periwinkle flowers, and a sprig of rue. Originally, the periwinkle was violet, but the pigment smalt has lost its hue in the course of the centuries. This process has also been observed in the other flower still lifes by Tom Ring. The ewer, made of white-glazed earthenware, is decorated with golden ornaments. Ludger tom Ring painted his signature on the body of the vessel, but only the letters ‘LV [. . . .] RIN[G]’ are still legible.
Ludger tom Ring (1522-1584)
Ludger tom Ring was the youngest scion of the Ring artist family from Münster, and mainly produced portraits and flower still lifes. The prefix ‘tom’ used by the family means ‘on or at the ring’. Ludger learned the trade from his father and travelled for some time through Holland, Flanders, and England. In 1569, he settled in Braunschweig, Germany, where he remained until his death. The prominent signature on the acquisition clearly indicates that Ludger tom Ring was profiling himself as a true Renaissance artist with a high degree of self-awareness. He was one of the earliest German artists to paint a self-portrait.
Importance of the Acquisition
The exceptionally fine Dutch and Flemish flower still lifes of the Mauritshuis offer an excellent overview of the development of the genre. The painting by Tom Ring provides an attractive prelude to the still lifes from the first quarter of the seventeenth century by painters mentioned above, such as Jan Brueghel the Elder and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. Compared to the modest flower still life by Tom Ring, those compositions are much more ambitious. They depict larger bouqu
ets, more exotic species, and combine types which do not blossom at the same time in real life. These paintings thereby show something that cannot exist in reality, as it were surpassing nature. All the plants in the newly acquired work bloom in the spring. Ludger tom Ring seems to have painted an existing bouquet, and in doing so he immortalised a bunch of spring flowers that can now be enjoyed the whole year round.
The Mauritshuis is open daily, on Mondays from 1 p.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and on Thursday evenings until 8 p.m. You can either purchase tickets online, in the ticket machine or at the cashier at the entrance. The Museum Card (Museumkaart) gives you free entrance to the museum. With this card you don’t have to stand in line, just show your Museumkaart at the entrance to get in.
You can download the Mauritshuis app in the AppStore, it will give you information in several languages and an audiotour is included. This museum is a must see on your list when visiting the Netherlands.