A Dictamnus

Balthasar van der Ast Dutch

Not on view

This watercolor of a blossoming Fraxinella (Dictamnus albus)—also known as a burning bush or gas plant in light of the highly flammable oil the plant secretes—belongs to a large group of drawings of individual flora and fauna by the flower still life specialist Balthasar van der Ast. This group originally comprised at least 483 sheets, each inscribed with the name, in Dutch, of the specimen(s) represented, with the monogram "BA," and with a number (the 214 on the present sheet is covered by a small pasted-on piece of paper at lower left). These drawings (71 of which are in the Frits Lugt Collection, Paris), were long attributed to the Dordrecht painter Bartholomeus Assteyn (1607-ca. 1667),[1] but as Michiel Plomp demonstrated in 2001, the quality of their execution and the close relationship of certain examples to paintings by Van der Ast leave no doubt as to their authorship.[2]

As has been noted, the motifs that appear in some of these sheets are replicated precisely in paintings by Van der Ast, indicating that the drawings served initially as reference material for the artist.[3] These works would, however, also have appealed to seventeenth-century amateurs of botany, to whom Van der Ast might have subsequently marketed them as a catalogue of specimens, perhaps only then adding the elegant calligraphic inscriptions and his monogram to each sheet.[4] In any case, the placement of the flower on the page in this drawing, as in the others, with ample space around it and with an eye to overall compositional balance, suggests that Van der Ast was interested, at the outset, as much in graceful presentation as in botanical precision.

(JSS, 7/5/18)

[1] Ingvar Bergström, Studier i holländskt stillebenmåleri under 1600-talet (Göteborg, 1947), p. 298, note 71; Laurens J. Bol, "Bartholomeus Assteijn: Dordts schilder van blommen en fruyten," Oud Holland 68, no. 3 (1953): pp. 136-48, esp. p. 140, note 24; and Laurens J. Bol, Bekoring van het kleine (Dordrecht: Dordrechts Museum, 1959), under no. 4.

[2] Michiel Plomp in Vermeer and the Delft School, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001), pp. 445-46. See also Sam Segal and Michiel Roding, De Tulp en de Kunst (Amsterdam: Nieuwe Kerk, 1994), pp. 81-83, 118, which reproduces one of the Paris drawings under Van der Ast’s name. For further discussion, see Gerdien Wuestman in Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt, exh. cat., ed. Ger Luijten et al. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2016), pp. 119-23.

[3] Plomp in Vermeer and the Delft School (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001), pp. 445-47, note 4; Wuestman in Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt, (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2016), p. 119.

[4] Plomp in Vermeer and the Delft School (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001), p. 446 and p. 447, note 5.

A Dictamnus, Balthasar van der Ast (Dutch, Middelburg 1593/94–1657 Delft), Watercolor, gouache

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.