De Wit made this oil sketch as a modello
for the ceiling canvas that he completed in 1744 for the grand canal house of Gerrit Hooft (1708–1780) at Herengracht 609–11, Amsterdam. The contents of the house were sold at auction in 1928. The original ceiling canvas is now installed in the Huis te Manpad near Heemstede, while the four corner pieces that framed the central composition are now in Keizersgracht 319, Amsterdam.
Hooft was a wealthy merchant and eight-time burgomaster between 1766 and 1779. He purchased the two houses at Herengracht 609–11 in 1741 and had them completely rebuilt behind a single facade. De Wit's decoration of the ceiling in the main reception room or salon (just off the entrance hall) consisted of seven canvases in wood moldings; the large Flora and Zephyr
was surrounded by monochrome compositions painted in imitation of stucco relief. The four corner pieces show putti working in a garden or displaying flowers. The round images resemble classical medallions and depict a male and a female head in profile. These idealized figures, which appear to have flowers in their hair, may be intended as Flora and her husband Zephyr, the west wind of springtime.
In The Met's picture, Flora is one of the least conspicuous figures, the woman in pink and white on a cloud in the bottom center of the composition. She gestures dramatically and looks up at Zephyr, who at first can barely be differentiated from his own cloud. On close inspection, however, his head, shoulders, arms, and a bit of fluttering drapery appear clearly enough, immediately above Flora's attendant with a bluish green mantle in her hands. In the ceiling painting itself, Zephyr appears in the same position, leaning over the edge of the cloud above Flora, who has gained a second attendant to the right.
Variations on the theme of Flora were common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; paintings by Poussin, Rembrandt (see 26.101.10
), and Tiepolo are among the best known (Tiepolo's Triumph of Flora and Zephyr
, in the Ca' Rezzonico, Venice, dates from 1734–35). De Wit celebrated the goddess of flowers—with and without Zephyr—in oil sketches for ceiling paintings dating from the early 1720s until the year of his death. Designs similar to that of The Met's sketch date from as early as about 1735, but its airy distribution of figures are more typical of the 1740s.
In eighteenth-century Amsterdam, a ceiling painting devoted to Flora suggested that the patron liked flowers, no more. However, it is worth noting that a large garden behind Hooft's house on the Herengracht could be seen through tall windows at the back of the salon.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]