JAN VAN KESSEL
1629 — Antwerp — 1679
Butterfly, Moth, Rose and Sprig of Gooseberries
watercolor on vellum. 55/8 x 75/8" (145 x 195mm).
Both Flemish and German artists of the 16th and 17th centuries executed stunning natural historical drawings on vellum such as this. But those of Jan van Kessel, Sr are closest in composition and technique to the present work. Mostly van Kessel painted his displays of insect and plant specimens on copper with a white ground. But his fascination with these natural phenomena took other forms as well, and always he was exacting in depicting their precise characteristics. Nadia Baadje, whose dissertation on the artist is pending, confirms the attribution to van Kessel. To quote Baadje, who has seen a photo of this drawing, "It definitely looks like van Kessel's hand to me. All of those motifs appear in his insect oeuvre (there is extensive repetition) and the dimensions fit with the few works on vellum that I am aware of. The detail in the butterfly, moth, and berries resembles that of his known insect paintings. It seems like many of his insect pictures on vellum and panel served as ‘studies’ for his more complex compositions on copper, but many of these ‘test pieces’ also hold their own as independent works." 1
I am grateful to Nan Sussman who was able to contact a lepidopterist for the purpose of identifying the insects depicted here. The moth hovering above is of the sphinx family. The species Darapsa Myron has similar wing shape and coloration but is not found in Europe, at least not today. The butterfly alighted on the stem of the white rose is the Painted Lady and is found almost everywhere. As for the lovely small reddish/orange berries, they are gooseberries and a favorite of van Kessel. Lastly, the rose, by any other name, is still a rose.
Thanks to Dr. Wendy Watson who put me in touch with her former student, Nadia Baadje.