1622; Oil on copper, 13-1/8 x 8 in.; The Saint Louis Art Museum
Still life was a frequent subject for Dutch and Flemish artists painting on a copper support, in part because copper facilitated the accurate depiction of flowers and other objects included in these highly detailed pictures. Van der Ast was renowned as a still life painter: an Amsterdam doctor of the time remarked of the artist, "In flowers, shells, and lizards, Beautiful." Van der Ast was led to painting on copper by his teacher and brother-in-law, Ambrosius Bosschaert I (Flemish, 1573-1621), the founder of a dynasty of flower and fruit still life painters, all of whom painted on this metal support.
The flowers shown in Van der Ast's painting bloom at different times of year, suggesting he made drawings or water color studies of individual flowers that he combined and varied in the studio within a single composition. The colors and textures of the shells in his paintings, including this one, are so explicitly rendered that they can be identified by modern conchologists. Here he has depicted a yellow picta (land snail) and a brown-and-white connus victoriae. Shells like these were brought to the Netherlands on the trading vessels of the East and West India Company and soon became prized collector's items, so much so that over-zealous collectors were satirized in the early seventeenth century as "shell fools."