This tabletop still life in many ways exemplifies van der Ast's contribution to Dutch still life painting of the first half of the seventeenth century. The large scale, canvas support, and composite nature of the composition all differentiate it from the example of his brother-in-law and teacher, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. The composition revolves around three substantial groupings of still life elements: pears and grapes piled high on a pewter plate at the center of the composition; a tulip, an iris, roses and carnations in an exotic porcelain vase on the right; and cherries, apricots, pears and grapes on a Wanli plate on the left. Nuts, a melon, a shell, a hermit crab, and stray blossoms litter the tabletop.
In addition to widening the scope of his still life elements to include a larger number of objects, van der Ast's conception of the floral element has moved away from the formality of Bosschaert's compositions, frontal in orientation and carefully arranged to best display the characteristics of each blossom. His are more freely flowing arrangements that approach more closely the experience of flowers in nature. Van der Ast's oeuvre of around 200 paintings is significantly larger than that of Bosschaert and his works are more varied in size, ranging from panels measuring 48 inches across to small copper plates no wider than six inches. This still life is among the largest of his works and the canvas support is relatively rare. Indeed, of the 126 works catalogued by Bol (L.J. Bol, The Bosschaert Dynasty, Leigh-on-Sea, 1960), only four are painted on canvas. They vary dramatically in size, suggesting that van der Ast's use of canvas did not necessarily relate to the size of the intended composition.
Van der Ast's move from Bergen op Zoom to Utrecht in 1619 would have exposed him to the works of Roelandt Savery and it has been noted that, from this point forward, his painting technique became notably softer and his attention to atmospheric effects was heightened. Fred Meijer has suggested that van der Ast painted this work in the early 1630s, around the time of his move from Utrecht to Delft. He joined the city's Guild of St. Luke in 1632 and paintings from his Delft period are, on the whole, more loosely painted and larger in scale.
We would like to thank Fred Meijer for his help with cataloguing this lot. Daniëlle Lokin, Director of the Prinsenhof Museum in Delft, will include this work in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.