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Vase of Flowers

Attributed to Brueghel Jan the Elder

(Brussels 1568 - Antwerp 1625)

The painting was ascribed to Jan Brueghel in the mid-20th century, and in spite of doubts expressed by some critics the attribution to the Flemish artist is still the predominant one today. Of uncertain provenance, the work may be one of the twelve small paintings on copper with flowers and fruits purchased by the Borghese family from Giacomo Costa in 1613.

A similar composition with small variations but of larger dimensions also forms part of the Collection.

Object details

end of the 16th century-beginning of the 17th century
oil on copper
cm 16 x 12

late 18th-/early 19th-century frame, 82 x 26 x 4 cm


Inv. 1693, room XI, no. 119; Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 10 / room VII, no. 15; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 31, no. 102. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

  • 1995-1996 Roma, Musei Capitolini
  • 2004 Roma, Complesso del Vittoriano
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1952 Augusto Vermehren


The painting depicts a round glass carafe, full of a great variety of flowers. Several flowers and petals have fallen onto a flat surface resembling a wooden table, while a ray of light is reflected laterally by the glass, highlighting its transparency.

The composition shows similarities to another still life with flowers in the Galleria Borghese (inv. no. 362). This work was also executed on copper but is slightly larger. Several details were added with respect to the work in question, such as the butterfly depicted in the lower left-hand corner and the reflection of a window visible in the transparency of the glass of the carafe (see Stefani 2000, p. 209; Curti 2011, p. 218).

Paola Della Pergola (1959, pp. 154-155, nos 220-221) ascribed both works to Jan Brueghel the Elder, son of Pieter Brueghel, claiming that the refined nature of the work supported her thesis.

Earlier, Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 221) had attributed the two paintings to the German artist Abraham Mignon. For his part, Roberto Longhi (1928, p. 225) rejected this idea, without, however, proposing a different name. Most critics have since accepted the attribution of the work in question to Brueghel, though not all: while Stefania Bedoni (1983, pp. 53-55) expressed her doubts, Klaus Ertz (1979, p. 278) more forcefully rebuffed the proposal, ascribing the copper to an unknown painter. While sympathetic to the hesitation on the part of some of his colleagues, Sergio Guarino (1995, p. 108) argued that it is difficult to identify the hand of a different artist in the work. For these reasons, the present writer likewise believes the attribution to Brueghel should be maintained.

Identification of the painting in the Borghese inventories remains a difficult task. That of 1693 contains an entry for ‘a small painting with a vase of flowers, three-quarters high. Black frame [...] artist uncertain’. In the 1790 inventory the painting is associated with a pair of works by Mario dei Fiori (Della Pergola, 1959), while the 1833 Inventario fidecommissario mentions a ‘small painting of flowers on copper, Flemish manner’, which may indicate our painting.

Regarding the work’s provenance, it may have been acquired by Scipione Borghese in the context of the well-known confiscation of the goods of Cavalier d’Arpino (Giuseppe Cesari) in 1607. Yet a more convincing theory is that it forms part of the ‘twelve small works with different fruits and flowers painted on copper’ purchased from Giacomo Costa in 1613, a transaction for which we possess documentation (Della Pergola 1959, p. 217, no. 60). In spite of the generic descriptions of both references, the inventory of the d’Arpino confiscation mentions a ‘painting’, suggesting a work of larger dimensions than those of the Borghese exemplar. It further omits the support material, which is usually indicated if a painting is not on canvas (Cavazzini 2012, p. 435). In addition, as Guarino (1995) noted, the first compositions of this genre that can be ascribed to Brueghel with certainty date to roughly 1606, a detail which would suggest that it was purchased at a later date.

The doubts raised by Bedoni (1983) regarding the attribution of the work were in part due to the artist’s unusual choice of depicting a vase made of glass. This detail, however, can be accounted for by the general interest of the era in reflections of light, in transparent materials and in mirrored surfaces, a fascination to which not even Caravaggio was immune (Herrmann Fiore 2000, p. 190).

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 427;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 221;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 225;
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 154-155, n. 220;
  • K. Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568-1625). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Köln 1979, p. 278, fig. 343;
  • S. Bedoni, Jan Brueghel in Italia e il collezionismo del Seicento, Firenze 1983, pp. 53-55;
  • A. Cottino, La natura morta caravaggesca a Roma, in La natura morta in Italia, direzione scientifica di F. Zeri, a cura di F. Porzio, Milano 1989, II, pp. 664-665;
  • S. Guarino, in La natura morta al tempo di Caravaggio, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Musei Capitolini, 1995-1996), a cura di A. Cottino, Roma 1995, p. 108, n. 13;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Caravaggio: la luce nella pittura lombarda, catalogo della mostra (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, 2000), a cura di C. Strinati, Milano 2000, p. 190;
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 209, n. 7;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Fiori: cinque secoli di pittura floreale, catalogo della mostra (Biella, Museo del Territorio, 2004), a cura di F. Solinas, Roma 2004, pp. 41-43, n. 2;
  • La Primavera. Il risveglio della natura tra arte e mito, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Complesso del Vittoriano), a cura di M.G. Bernardini, Roma 2004;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 166;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, in Fiori, natura e simbolo dal Seicento a Van Gogh, catalogo della mostra (Forlì, Musei San Domenico, 2010), a cura di D. Benati, F. Mazzocca, A. Morandotti, Cinisello Balsamo 2010, p. 62;
  • F. Curti, in Caravaggio a Roma, una vita dal vero, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Archivio di Stato, 2011), a cura di M. De Sivo, O. Verdi, E. Lo Sardo, Roma 2011, p. 218;
  • P. Cavazzini, Fiori, frutti e animali nel mercato artistico romano di primo Seicento, in Roma al tempo di Caravaggio 1600-1630, II, Saggi, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Venezia, 2011-2012), a cura di R. Vodret Adamo, Milano 2012, p. 435.