Roses in Art 
Part II - The Baroque Period (1600-1800)

Part I         Part III     Part IV

By Steve Jones

In this part we will look at the period in painting where roses were used considerably more than just simple adornments. 

Roses made a big impact with classical painting starting with the Dutch and Flemish masters in the 1600's, which is often called the Baroque period (1600-1800). Portraits and still-lifes were very common during this period. The paintings were typically heavy paint, darker colors, and the detail is excellent. 

Jan Brueghel (1568-1625) was one of the first to use the full petalled centifolia roses in his paintings, such as in Rose with Diamonds (c. 1600), which is more of a vase with roses and tulips. He painted so many flowers; he was nicknamed "Velvet" or "Flower" Brueghel. He painted every type of flower with such a creative force. In one still-life, he painted over 200 flowers and over 40 different species. His botanical detail and use of colors is excellent. His son Ambrosius (1617-1675) continued his father's work in floral paintings. 

Michel Bellange (1726-1793) created his famous painting Madonna with a Rose (1617), yet his life is largely unknown.

During this time, many of the paintings were largely still-lifes with vases of flowers. Some were all roses; others were roses with other flowers, such as Verelst's Tulips, Roses, and Ranunculus (1670), Ruysch's Tulips in a Vase (c. 1720s), and Zurbaran's Lemons, Oranges, and Roses (circa 1633). 

These paintings were typical of the masters of this time, heavy paint with fine details. In the 1700s, the French among other countries produced many fine paintings, which were finely detailed, bright, colorful, and realistic, often called the Rococo style (1710-1790). In these, portraits were more of scenes, and some were landscapes. In his painting of Madame de Pompadour (c. 1750), Francois Boucher showed the famous mistress with flowers on her dress, garlands, and roses in the garden as she stood at the foot of a statue of Venus. Up to this time, roses were the symbol of innocent love and purity. Now roses were to be viewed as symbols of just love, innocent or not. This was carried out in paintings by Jean Honore Fragonard, who used roses in his paintings of Madame de PompadourMadame du BarryThe Swing (c. 1786) and the exotic Storming the Citadel (c. 1750s), where a young man climbs a wall with roses to meet his lover. In The Swing, a mistress is swinging in the garden filled with roses, showing the amorous atmosphere of the time. Roses also were used to signify a short life, especially when strewn at ones feet. 

With the 1700s came the best of the rose illustrators, such as George Ehret and Pierre Joseph Redoute. Their paintings were actually illustrations, but they are important paintings none the less. We know Redoute painted most of the roses from Empress Josephine's garden at Malmaison from 1817 to 1824. He was an accomplished botanical painter before then. George Ehret was a talented illustrator as well and many of his works were done in the mid-1700s. His detail was truly awesome, and has rarely been duplicated. Yet, he is relatively unknown among rosarians. The other well-known illustrator of roses at this time was Mary Lawrence, whose book A Collection of Roses from Nature is one of the first books printed solely on roses. A copy today sells for $120,000. Her best known print from this book is the wreath of roses that is commonly used in other publications. Now whether these artists qualify as painters or not is open to discussion, but the prints were painted, mostly in watercolors, so they deserve a mention here.

Marie Antoinette had numerous paintings made of her, and her favorites included one by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, which showed her holding a rose while in her rose garden. It is alleged that this painting may have caused Josephine to think of the rose as regal, thus the reason she had to have roses at Malmaison. 

The Dutch and Flemish were very prevalent during this period. Willem van Aelst (1625-1683) was another of the leading floral painters who used roses extensively in his paintings. He was also known for his "hunting" paintings. His work was strongly asymmetric, but the attention to detail was excellent. It has been said that his works have elegance and sophistication. 

Balthasar van der Ast (1593-1657) was very similar in style to van Aelst. His attention to detail and use of colors made his paintings stand out. He painted about 250 works, but his treatment of the flowerpiece made him well known. He did experiment with odd accessories, such as parrots, lizards, and seashells in his paintings. He painted all flowers as well, but seemed to like the full rose as a focal point. 

Jean Baptiste Belin de Fontenay (1653-1715) was a Frenchman whose works should be better known. He loved to paint roses, tulips and anemones in his works. He is best known for decorating paintings and portraits with flowers, such as in Portrait d'une Femme Entoure de Fleurs.

The Bosschaerts had a dynasty with many family members who were all well-known floral artists. Each of them were very detail-oriented painters and were known for their use of all flowers, especially roses. Each had their own style. Abraham (1613-1643) used a large pink rose often with the outer petals folded back. Ambrosius the Elder (1573-1621) used tulips. There were three sons of the Elder, all died quite young, and all were painters. Through marriage, the family also included van der Ast. 

Jacob van Es (1596-1666) used restraint when he painted his flowers, as well as cool colors. A good example is his Bouquet of Roses

Jacobus van Huysum (1687-1740) was another of the fully detailed painters, and one of the most interesting. He always had a drinking problem that started early in his life. He married a lady of ill repute and drank himself merry, and eventually to his death. He did 12 main works, with centifolia roses among the bouquets. 

Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) is arguably the greatest of all women painters, and may be considered one of the greatest painters regardless of gender. Her father was a professor of botany and she apprenticed under van Aelst when she was 13. She married the noted portrait painter Juriaen Poole and had 10 children by him. She was known for painting graceful curving stems, and showed the flowers rather than elaborate vases. She used numerous flowers of all species including roses. She seemed to prefer the lesser petalled roses than the full shapes of the centifolias. 

Simon Verelst (1644-1721) used roses, tulips, and poppies in his paintings. His works are quite different; they are rather loose with flowers hanging every which way. His colors were cool, using a lot of gray and blues. He was hired to paint the Duchess of Portsmouth, a mistress to Charles II. He was committed to an asylum when his popularity went to his head and started to call himself the "God of Flowers and King of Painters."

Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818), late in this period was another excellent woman painter. Her excellent work caught the eye of Marie Antoinette and she worked in the Louvre until the Revolution. She painted mostly still-lifes, many without vases, where the flowers hang in the air. Roses were a favorite subject. She definitely needs to be better known. Roses (c. 1790) is an excellent example of her work. 

Gerard van Spaendonck (1746-1822) was one of the last great painters during this period. He continued the large, opulent paintings of the Dutch masters and influenced a new generation. He taught flower painting at the Jardin du Roi. He liked to use the full centifolia type roses in his bouquets. He painted well in both oils and in watercolors. 

In the next part of this series, we will look at the peak of roses in paintings, when new styles were practiced; a time that has not been duplicated since.

This article was an ARS Award of Merit Winner. Reprinted from Rose Ecstasy, bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor. 

© Copyright  Steve Jones. All rights reserve

Part I         Part III     Part IV


"Rosa Gallica Versicolor"
by Pierre-Joseph Redoute
"Rosa Gallica Officinalis"
by Pierre-Joseph Redoute
"Rosa Gallica Eglanteria"
by Pierre-Joseph Redoute
"Bouquet of Flowers in an Arch" 
by Ambrosius Bosschaert
"Marie Antoinette"
By Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun
"Princess Maria Cristina"
By Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun
"Flowers in a Vase"
by Rachel Ruysch
"A Vase of Flowers"
by Rachel Ruysch
"Flowers in a Glass Vase"
by Rachel Ruysch
"Vase de Fleurs"
by Anne Vallayer-Coster
"Vase of Flowers With a Watch"
by Willem van Aelst
"Still Life With Flowers"
by Gerard van Spaendonck
Updated January 4, 2016