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Mignon – Flowers in a Grotto
Artwork description
Abraham Mignon
(Frankfurt/ Main, 1640 - Wetzlar, 1679)
German school
Oil on canvas
100 x 78 cm
Inv. 106125/2881
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 1st floor, room 4

Abraham Mignon specialized in scholarly compositions which recreate nature in a synthetic but highly artificial manner. Nature is a means to metaphorically suggest a universe rulled by Divine order. In fact this is the very message of this painting, one Mignon executed at the height of his mature years.

The painting features flowers and fruit only apparently scatered randomly on and around a tree stump, so as to create a feeling of ‘natural’ disorder. The center piece is placed against the backdrop of a dark grotto. A rat lurks in the hollow of the tree, ready to pray the nest of a goldfinch. Snails, a snake, a frog and a lizard swarm in the water while butterflies and bumblebees fly in the dark. An invisible torch lights up the right side of the picture where irises, poppies, peonies, anemones, snowballs, raspberry and chamomile emerge from the shadow.

A wealth of metaphores and Christian symbols record the many dangers that confront the faithful and his capacity to choose between good and evil. The bee, the caterpillar and the butterfly have associated Christian emblems, the lily is a symbol of the Virgin’s purity, the carnation flower stands for the Incarnation of Jesus while the rose represents chastity. These symbols are interspersed with other, more ‘narrative’ episodes: the snake crushed by a stone alludes to the triumph of the Church over the Devil while the bumblebee flying over thistle suggests the liberty to choose between virtue and lechery.

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