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Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

Jacob Marrel

Tulips and Other Flowers in a Painted Stoneware Baroque Vase on a Wooden Ledge

signed on the lower left side of the ledge J Marrel

30 x 19 1/2 inches (65 x 50 cm.)


Jacob Marrel was born in Frankenthal, but by 1624 the family had moved to Frankfurt. It is believed that by 1627 he had entered Georg Flegel’s workshop in the city. There he would remain until late 1632 when he arrived in Utrecht. It was here under the influence of fellow painters Roelandt Savery and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger that Marrel developed his signature works of opulent vases of flowers on ledges and niches.[1] This was also the period of the so-called “Tulipmania”, which started in 1634 and engulfed Holland. Fortunes were spent in speculation on individual tulip bulbs until the market crashed in 1637.[2] In response to this market between 1634 and 1648, Marrel produced a number of “tulip books” which were comprised of watercolors of tulips painted on vellum. These books were employed by dealers to show what the tulip would resemble upon flowering.[3]

He was also involved in art dealing during this time, which perhaps brought him into contact with Jan Davidsz. de Heem in Antwerp, whose style towards the end of the decade would be notable in Marrel’s own works. Married to Catherina Eliot in 1641, the daughter of a goldsmith, she sadly passed away in 1649. By 1650 he had returned to Frankfurt where Abraham Mignon became his pupil. In 1651 Marrel married Johanna Sibylla Heim, the widow of the engraver Matthäus Merian, making him the stepfather of Maria Sibylla Merian. She along with her future husband Johann Andreas Graff also become his pupils. Marrel’s use of a variety of insects in so many of his paintings obviously made a profound impression on Merian, as “she is now considered one of the founders of modern - day zoology, in recognition for her significant contribution to the science, with the publication of her (numerous) volumes of natural illustrations which record the process of metamorphosis of nearly 200 insect species”[4]  Between 1659 – 1669 Marrel visited Utrecht several times probably in his capacity as an art dealer and apparently as a merchant of tulip bulbs.[5]

Reflected in this work, as in many of Marrel’s compositions tulips dominate with only the “most exclusive and expensive species” on display[6]. Starting in 1634, Marrel depicted painted stoneware Baroque vases holding floral arrangements.[7] Our example is particularly charming with the foot of the vase shaped like leaves, and a frieze of Diana and her Nymphs Bathing across the body. Marrel also often added very inventive features particularly in the use of insects.[8] Here it appears that a cricket spys on the bathers.

Flowers in general had long been associated with the idea that both life and beauty are fleeting, and the inclusion of insects due to their short life spans adds to the vanitas theme.[9] Although the pair at the base of the vase look like grasshoppers, who were regarded as symbols of calamity, they are actually wart – biter crickets known for jaws like razor blades that are capable of biting chunks out of human flesh. The red and black spotted beetle crawling towards the fallen petals along the ledge, as well as the small yellow beetle embedded in the pink rose in the lower left are bent on hastening the flowers’ decay. Further the dragon fly towards the upper left was associated with the devil. The two butterflies at the top of each side of the bouquet symbolize salvation.[10] The caterpillar, emerging from the wormhole of the ledge further underscores the message of hope; as the caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly, symbolize life, death and rebirth.[11] Thus Marrel is portraying the timeless struggle of good and evil within these petals, with the conclusion being – all is not yet lost.

We are grateful to Dr. Fred G. Meijer for confirming this work to be by Jacob Marrel after viewing.

[1]  Biographical information taken from Adriaan van der Willigen & Fred G. Meijer, “Jacob Marrel” in A Dictionary of Dutch and Flemish Still-life Painters Working in Oils, 1525 – 1725, Primavera Press, Leiden, 2003, p. 138; and “Jacob Marrel” on (RKD Explore) website.

[2]  Anna Pavord, The Tulip, Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 6.

[3]  Sam Segal, “Jacob Marrel” in Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings, Johnny van Haeften, London, 1999, no. 11.

[4] Katy Hessel, The Story of Art Without Men, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., N.Y., 2023, p. 47.

[5] P.C. Molhuysen & P.J. Blok, “Jacob Marrel” in Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, Rotterdam, 1937; Adriaan van der Willigen & Fred G. Meijer, op.cit., p. 138; and “Jacob Marrel”  on, op.cit.

[6] Sam Segal & Klara Alen, “Jacob Marrel” in Dutch and Flemish Flower Pieces, volume I, Brill, Hes & De Graaf, Leiden, Boston, 2020, p. 293.

[7] Ibid, p. 293.

[8] Ibid, p. 289.

[9] Lucia Impelluso, trans. Stephen Sartarelli, Nature and its Symbols, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2004, p. 74; and Raymond J. Kelly, III, “Types of Vanitas Symbols” in To Be, Or Not To Be, Four Hundred Years of Vanitas Painting, Flint Institute of Arts, 2006, p. 25

[10] Lucia Impelluso, op.cit., pp. 75, 334.

[11] Kathren Jones Hellerstedt, Gardens of Earthly Delight, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Netherlandish   Gardens, Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1986, p. 23.