First recorded in the 1930s as by Jan Breughel the Elder, it was not until 1960 that this high quality still life was correctly linked to Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, when Laurens Bol published it as an autograph work in his seminal The Bosschaert Dynasty: Painters of Flowers and Fruit (op. cit.). As Bol noted, the picture is closely related to the signed work on copper in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (inv. A539), which is generally dated to circa 1609. The two pictures share several of the same motifs - the blue vase (with the exception of the gilt base), the two roses, polyanthus narcissus, yellow French marigold, cyclamen and one tulip (in the top left of the present work), along with the shell in the left foreground. A number of works by Bosschaert, also dating to this period, feature varied designs of the giltmounted Wan-li vase, such as that in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid (inv. 1958.4) and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. 547), suggesting that the master invented variations of the motif, rather being reliant on a specific studio prop.
Despite its relationship to the Oxford picture and the obvious finesse of its execution, Dr. Fred Meijer of the RKD, The Hague, disagrees with Bol, arguing that the present work is by a talented artist active in the Bosschaert studio around 1617/18, rather than by the master himself: ‘lacking the subtlety in the details and looseness and freedom in the handling that characterises Bosschaert’ (after first-hand inspection; private communication).
He raises the question as to whether the picture could have been executed by the young Balthasar van der Ast, who trained under Bosschaert and whose early output, pre-1618, is still largely shrouded in mystery. Certainly the two artists were extremely close during van der Ast’s formative years. His elder sister Maria married Bosschaert in 1604 and the three of them lived together following his father’s death in 1609. It appears furthermore that van der Ast was familiar with the Oxford composition, from which he borrowed the gilt base and several flowers for an early work dated 1619 (California, Norton Simon Museum, inv. M.1976), specifically the white Batavian rose, yellow French marigold and cyclamen leaf. Motifs from the vase were also adopted for another picture from the same period in circa 1620 (see S. Segal, ‘Balthasar van der Ast’, Masters of Middelburg, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, 1984, pp. 53-4, fig. 9). As Dr. Meijer also points out, the slightly naive perspective of the gilt base of the vase is entirely in keeping with these early works by van der Ast, demonstrating the dexterous hand of an artist still in search his own artistic idiom.