Born in Santorcaz, Madrid in 1614, Juan de Arellano entered the studio of Juan de Solis at the age of sixteen where he trained as a figure-painter of modest success. However, by the time he reached his thirties, he had begun to concentrate predominantly on flower-pieces, eventually producing a repertory of different formats, including vases, baskets and garlands. This genre had been explored by Spanish artists of the previous generation, most notably by Juan van der Hamen y León (1596-1631) and Juan Fernández, called El Labrador (active 1629-1636), who both incorporated flowers into their still life paintings. However, it was not until the mid-seventeenth century (and in part due to Arellano) that flower-pieces became a specialist field in Spanish art and an integral feature of the decoration of homes and church interiors in Madrid.
Arellano was strongly influenced by artists from the Spanish Netherlands, such as Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) and Daniel Seghers (1590-1661), yet as his career progressed in the 1660s the Baroque style of the Italian artist Mario Nuzzi, called Mario de’ Fiori (1603-1673), increasingly appealed to the artist. Arellano became the leading exponent of flower painting in the Golden Age of Spanish art, with Antonio Palomino stating that: ‘none of the Spaniards surpassed him in eminence of this skill’ (A. Palomino de Castro y Velasco, Las vidas de los pintores y estatuarios eminentes españoles [abridged from Volume 3 of El museo pictórico y escala óptica, Madrid, 1715-24], London, 1742, p. 105).
The present two works display several characteristic features of Arellano’s style, particularly in the use of the primary colours red, yellow, and blue. These dominant hues are harmoniously balanced and offset through the chiaroscuro generated from the white highlights and dark background. Whilst Arellano typically produced pairs of works, Alfonso E. Pérez Sanchez (op. cit.) believed that these two pictures were only united in the nineteenth century when they were given identical frames, citing the slight differences between them and the disparity in their dimensions. Arellano typically signed his paintings, yet unusually the second of these pictures is also dated to 1665, marking it as an important and particularly illuminating work in the artist’s oeuvre. The loose, liveliness of the first undated picture prompted Pérez Sanchez to suggest a slightly later date. He compared the porcelain vase in the picture to those in the two paintings in the Abelló collection, dated 1667 (Pérez Sanchez, ibid., nos. 33-4). In both of the present works, Arellano chose not to include the insects which are common in his early works and which also recur in the later pictures; rather, the focus remains on the multitude of different species of flowers. Uprights of this size are rare and these pictures exemplify the middle period of Arellano’s oeuvre and particularly the influence of Mario Nuzzi with their drama, lively sense of movement, bold colours, and Baroque grandeur.