In 1909 German art historian Wilhelm von Bode wrote that “…we find with de Heem that genuinely Dutch, loving interest for nature, for the peculiarity of every plant and every fruit, for form and appearance, and the most sedulous rendering of the impressions won.” One of the most celebrated still life artists of his time, de Heem’s works are characterized by their accuracy, brilliance and harmony of color, and use of allegorical elements to illustrate moral and spiritual principles.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington observes that “In this work, de Heem creates a harmonious arrangement by balancing the colors and shapes of thirty-one types of flowers, vegetables, and grains. Despite the illusion of reality, this bouquet could have never actually existed, as the various flowers would have bloomed in different seasons. De Heem often included specific animals and flowers in his work for their symbolic meanings. Representing darkness and decay, a salamander stares hungrily at a spider, while a snail, a moth, and some ants crawl on the marble shelf. The memento mori (remember that you will die) images are counterbalanced by the wheat stalks symbolizing the Eucharist, and by the caterpillar and butterfly on the white poppy, which evoke redemption and resurrection.”
The son of painter David de Heem the Elder, he was born into an artistic family in Utrecht, but resided for much of his career in Antwerp, where he was influenced by Jan Brueghel and Daniel Seghers. Around 1659-1666 he collaborated with Jan Vermeer van Utrecht on a portrait of Prince William III surrounded by a cartouche of flowers, which sold for 2,000 guilders; one of the highest prices paid for a painting during the Dutch Golden Age. His commercial success allowed him to train several noteworthy apprentices, including Abraham Mignon, Andries Benedetti and Alexander Coosemans, and well as his sons Cornelis and Jan.