Gorgeous Dutch still life florals have been around since the early 17th century and I think they are still timeless. Because of each artist’s eye for realism and their sheer appreciation for the flower subjects being depicted, I thought this would make a great theme for a gumpasting creation and/or cake. Here is my interpretation of one in sugar.
For my inspiration for this project I looked at numerous paintings and read what I could to discover how these artists were influenced and what they used in their artwork. Because one of my favorite Dutch Masters is Jan Frans van Dael, I decided to loosely base this project on his painting shown below.
Here are some of things I learned and observed about these artists’ various pieces:
The Flowers, Fruits & Insects
Striped or streaked (especially scarlet-colored) parrot tulips were extremely popular and it is no doubt due to the ‘tulip mania’ (aka tulipomania) during this time period. The most extravagant flowers (which tulips were considered to be) would most often be prominently displayed in the top half of the painting, hence their use in this placement. Tulips were not the only bulb flower utilized; there were also crown imperials (fritillaria), bluebells, narcissus, irises etc., all of which were also considered rare and expensive. Of course the artists had some garden flowers such as pink or pastel roses, peonies and Iceland poppies, etc. They also included wildflowers, tendrils, vines, grasses and stalks of wheat in order to convey a natural, organic feeling. Strangely the abundance of foliage was limited, but it appears to me they sometimes made up for this absence by incorporating fruit instead. Finally, the painting wouldn’t be complete without an insect or two (or even more) which normally included butterflies, ladybirds, caterpillars, snails, dragonflies, flies bees, ants, etc.
The Dew Drops
These painters were renowned for their attention to the minutest of details. So, it is no surprise that they would occasionally add a glistening water drop(s) to flower petals or drooping leaves to lend an air of realism.
The Floral Composition
There were no rigid floral design elements for their compositions. Basically these informal arrangements were an ‘oval shape’ and some incorporated a soft “S” curve going through them. It was quite acceptable to use pairs of the same flower instead of the more traditional odd number. They were known for having their flowers facing ‘backwards’, however I decided to forgo this particular design choice.
These vessels were quite often low-footed urns made of terracotta, brass or other metals. The containers’ appearance was softened by allowing the flowers, etc. to spill over their edges. If you want to make this creation into a cake, using the ‘container’ for it would be a terrific option. However, mine is a faux urn made to simulate what a carved cake might look like if covered with some fondant.
Another common denominator is the dark earth tones that the Dutch Masters used for their paintings’ background colors. So, when I went to photograph my project I tried three different backdrops to try and capture their special painting style. To my surprise each one had its own special effect on how my sugar flowers appeared. In the end I could not decide which one I preferred most, so I decided to feature photos with all three backdrops in this posting and let you decide which one works best.
My Dutch Still Life Inspired Gumpaste Design
For this project I tried to stay true to the things I mentioned above. Since there were quite a few floral options to choose from I ended up selecting the blossoms, etc. that I thought would be fun to create out of gumpaste/fondant. They include a tall, majestic stem of crown imperial (fritillaria), two parrot tulips and some bluebells, trailing bindweed (Convolvulus tricolor), wheat, garden roses, lilac, etc. I also recycled some grapes and a butterfly from one of my previous projects. My finishing touch was a couple of water droplets on the tulip leaf. If you would like to add some to yours read: How to Make Water Droplets Out of Piping Gel.
I hope after you read this posting that it inspires you to bring a little Flemish history to one of your future cake creations as well!