Semper Augustus

A blood spattered mirror would have aroused suspicion in the garden of Dr. Adriaen Pauw. He was a director of the East India Company in its early years, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. But if you looked closely enough you would see that the wild streaks of crimson belonged to Semper Augustus, a rare and expensive tulip many would have killed for. Dr. Pauw had almost all of the specimens in existence and he surrounded them with mirrors to give the illusion of a whole field. He refused to sell his bulbs, even though each one was worth, for a brief time, more than the annual earnings of many well-off merchants. Paintings, even Rembrandts, were cheaper. Perhaps Dr. Pauw didn’t need the money and enjoyed looking at his tulips, all the while stirring up jealousy in his neighbors. His reluctance made people want the Semper Augustus even more, shaping its reputation as the most beautiful and coveted of tulips.

Still Life by Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1650-83; Coat by Dries van Noten Spring 2014; Massacre of the Innocents by Keith Edmier
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Plate by Alice Lasky; Earrings by Tina Roeder; Plate by Cristina Ripper; Ring by Marren; Pillow Cover by Samin; Clutch by Lisa; Mittens by Aurelija; Necklace by Péter Fehér

The stripes and swirls of Semper Augustus were the result of a virus, a spontaneous break of color that occurred once in a hundred bulbs, if that. Whoever thinks beauty is health did not witness the feverish obsession with diseased tulips that swept over the Dutch upper classes. Hans Bollongier’s Still Life depicts a highly unnatural bouquet in a state of decay. No one would have had that many broken tulips, roses, anemones, and carnations. (They don’t bloom simultaneously anyway.) The topmost specimens of Semper Augustus are at the peak of ripeness, but, as you look look down, the petals start to sag and lose their vibrancy.

Still Life by Hans Bollongier, 1639; Bloom by Anna Schuleit; Coat by Dries Van Noten Spring 2014
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Earrings by Sarah Davis; Clutch by Tovi Sorga; Pendant by Eli and Leah; Necklace by Eried; Earrings by Mayahelena; Etching by Sally Winter;  Earrings by Amber Sky; Flower by Cristina Ripper

Bollongier undresses the tulip to reveal the diseased, decaying flesh under its fancy clothes. The painting makes a case for its own worth, asking, why bother with the real thing when it will disappear in a few days? But the tulip was not just another pretty flower. Contemporary sources compared it to luxurious cloth, like silk embroidered with gold and silver thread. Broken bulbs did have fine, feathery patterns like the brushstrokes of a Dutch master or the embroidery of a skilled weaver. Just as exotic textiles traveled west via the Silk Road, cultivated tulips were man-made eye candy full of artificial flavors. Dr. Pauw would have known this better than anyone, being in charge of a network that dealt with equal parts pleasure and profit.


Tonight we’re serving a feast of summer fruits and exotic spices.

• Peter Lippmann’s Forbidden Fruits and Assiettes series display jewels among the remnants of half-finished fruit and fancy dishes. The hard surface of diamonds stands out against the juicy flesh of a tomato, but the two have a complementary lusciousness that evokes the glamour of fine dining. Lippman’s work echoes 17th century Dutch still lifes, which often depict the remnants of an expensive meal.

• This Still Life by an unknown 17th century French painter captures the bounty of summer at its peak – strawberries, asparagus, artichoke, snap peas, and roses.

• Aya Wind’s Green Beans peek out from delicately folded white towel. Her Dark Winter Roots displays kohlrabi and beets from their roots to their leaves.

• Melissa’s Za’atar is a blend of organic sesame seeds, sumac, salt, and oregano perfect for seasoning your own flatbread. Her Harissa is a deep red mix of Aleppo pepper, paprika, cumin, and other smokey spices.

• James Jams’ Super Cumin Spice Rub Blend combines cumin with thyme and parsley for a zesty finish to tacos or meats.

• Cathy Savels’ Tomato Slices layers one painted slice with another cast in plaster and filled with string.

• These BBQ Blends are six different rubs based on the Southwestern and Mexican flavors.

• Frank Krifka’s Radishes is a realistic depiction of the tiny bunches that appear in early summer.

Wild Strawberries

It’s strawberry season! Once you’re done devouring boxes of fresh berries, consider prolonging the pleasure with these fine goodies.

• Adriaen Coorte’s Strawberries on a Stone Plinth and Édouard Manet’s Basket of Strawberries depict the bounty any one of us might bring home from the farmer’s market in June. And yet each berry is singular, its markings dependent on a unique relationship between light and seed. Coorte’s berries are perfectly situated, while Manet’s are fleshy, even grotesque the more you look at them.

• Arian Spellman’s Strawberry Jam is made with low sugar and organic strawberries grown in Santa Barbara.

• Lushley’s Strawberries are covered with a thick layer of milk and white chocolate.

• Indiyani’s Macarons have a strawberry flavored shell and are filled with strawberry ganache.

• Kim Cortez’ Jam is made with strawberries and a little champagne for a little extra kick.

• Andrea Galvez’ Jam mixes strawberries with the dark, rich taste of balsamic.

• Jamie Styger’s Thumbprint Cookies are made of shortbread filled with jam and rolled in coconut.

• Gary’s Duo Suckers are split between chocolate and strawberry for those who want a little of both.

• Elizabeth Kelley’s Preserves are made with freshly picked organic strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice for a wide range of dessert recipes.

Lemon Fresh

Start your Monday on a bright note with some lemons, ranging from the Dutch Golden age to the present.

• Willem Kalf’s Still Life gives lemons a dramatic entrance. Direct light illuminates their mildly textured surface, reflecting into the ornate silver jug and gold watch. The lemons are casually tipping over a bowl from the Ming dynasty, picked up from distant lands on Dutch trade routes. A twisted gold goblet full of white wine hides in the back. The lemon shows off all of these luxuries for the successful merchants able to acquire them. But, as with every Dutch still life, the painting reigns in such extravagance. Lemon juice was added to wine to reduce its strength. And what about that lemon in the back of the bowl, covered in mold and dried up skin? Its rind appears to have been used for decoration, leaving its juice to waste. A rotting lemon grounds the luxurious surroundings in time, suggesting that all of this wealth will soon go to waste. But the painting won’t. It will remain fresh with the splendor of pleasure and money.

• Kyle Bean’s Brains are made from a luscious selection of lemons, grapes, blueberries, and dark chocolate. You might as well call yourself a zombie.

• Gijs Bakker’s Grape Brooch takes the still lifes of the Dutch Golden age into the present, keeping the same love of luxury. The bunch is a combination of yellow gold, pearls, and diamonds.

• Noémie Pichon’s Earrings are whimsical little berries on feet.

• Emy Uhlig’s Tie is made from solid yellow cotton sure to brighten up any suit.

• These Studs by Miniblings are lemon halves that look good enough to eat.

• Stephanie Dunkin’s Lemons are made from stoneware, so they’ll stay fresh in your fruit basket forever.

• Jorey Hurley’s Lemon print traces the fruit’s uneven edge, and her Meyer Lemons hide behind green foliage.

• Laura Holmes’ Earrings dangle clusters of lemon jade gems from sterling silver wires.

• Susanne’s Necklace strings together yellow felt beads made from organic wool.


• Why tulips? Why were tulips the most sought-after luxury item in Dutch cities during the 1630s? Colorful tiger stripes did not drive astronomical prices and cause a major ripple in the financial market. Botanists and aristocratic humanists took an interest in tulips, but so did the new class of burghers and merchants eager to establish their own systems of value and status. This convergence of high fashion and money made tulips the “it” item, until it crashed the market in 1637. Take a look at Hans Bollongier’s Still Life of tulips at the new Rijksmuseum online collection. Read about Dutch history, build your own online collection, and download the hi-res images to use in new ways.

• In this spread for Dazed & Confused Magazine, high fashion literally frolicks in fields of tulips.

• Cynthia’s Tulip Earrings are made from thin sheets of copper delicately molded into petals.

• Virginija’s Wrist Warmers have a pattern of tulips from golden glass beads.

• Nienke’s Hand Bag overlays white netting with tulips over dark leather.

• Elzbieta’s Earrings recreate the wave and texture of tulips in brass.

• Rowena’s Clutch depicts a splash of red tulips on creme-colored cotton fabric.

• Alison’s Clutch has a watercolor design of dark pink tulips.


• Death and pleasure mingle in the vanitas still life. Flemish painter Cornelis Norbertus Gijsbrechts surrounds the skull, the cornerstone of vanitas, with wheat, an hourglass, a violin, and gilded tableware. Listing the symbolism of objects in still lifes is tedious and only mildly interesting. The wheat means resurrection after death; the hourglass and candle are reminders that life is short; the violin is entertainment. Basically, enjoy your wealth while you can because death is right around the corner. What is most intriguing about this painting is the right corner, where the paint appears to peel away from the canvas. The objects are on a small stage, and the peeling paint resembles pulling back a curtain. Vanitas still lifes are a theatrical display of wealth, but they reveal the fleeting quality of pleasure and possession with reminders of death.

• Jules hand crafted these Tiny Skulls from bronze and suspended them from an antiqued brass chain.

• Shanna’s Bass Ass Skull Ring is custom made in sterling silver.

• Blue’s Pendant is a bronze cast of a skull surrounded by animal bones.

• Michael’s Werewolf Skull belongs in a gothic house or cabinet of curiosities.

• James’ Skull Necklace is intricately carved in white bronze.

Sicilian Still Life

But the garden, hemmed and almost squashed between these barriers, was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom.
– Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

• Caravaggio’s Still Life with a Basket of Fruit (1601) embodies the saintly and putrid qualities of the Leopard’s garden in Sicily. Insects have eaten into the fruit and the leaves are dry and shriveled. But the golden background gives the composition a saintly glow, as if the decayed fruit was on display as a relic. Today is Caravaggio’s 441st birthday.

• The Dolce & Gabbana Spring 2013 Collection played with Sicilian straw and raffia craftsmanship by using the materials as the visible infrastructure of their dresses.

• Masao Seki’s Basket is made of wire so thin it looks like a line drawing floating in space.

• Brad’s Fruit Platter is section of a wine barrel that cradles your still-life perfectly.

• Billie’s Twined Basket is a simple yet timeless way to display your goods.

• Caravaggio’s Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593) displays grapes, peaches, apples, cherries, figs, pomegranates, and pears in perfect condition. The leaves that extend over the edge of the basket show signs of decay. Sicilian painter Mario Minniti was the model for the boy, whose eyes and posture melt with overripe languor.

• Listen to the frequencies of fruit in the Natura Morta symphony.

• Julie’s Basket has a natural ceramic sheen with a golden yellow inside.

• Laetitia Florin’s Bidum Basket is a vibrating container that you can fit a human body into.

• This Sicilian Basket is handcrafted in Sicily from palma nana straw and decorated with colorful pompoms and mirrors.

Black Rooster Rye

• The Baltic rye bread from Black Rooster is dense with a sweet and sour flavor and a touch of caraway. We live in New York and buy it at Zabar’s on Broadway and 80th. Some of our favorite toppings are avocado and radish slices, cottage cheese and dill, smoked sprats, and, for something sweeter, almond butter and plum jam. Black Rooster also sells a fruit and nut version that is full of apricots, plums, hazelnuts, raisins, and honey.

• Edvards Grube conveys the density of this kind of bread in his still life of a loaf and pitcher. Apart from the curved rim of the pitcher, everything appears flattened in layers of rich brown.

• In the spirit of all things Latvian, here is a Semigallian Necklace in heavy silver and an Amber Necklace with three levels of golden, polished resin.

Shock of Pink

• Elsa Schiaparelli is famous for her shade of shocking pink. She developed the shade from an initial interest in a Cartier diamond, which she described as “bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, like all the light and the birds and the fish in the world but together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West – a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.”

• Still Life with Lemons is not a still life at all. The pink background and loose, fleur-de-lis pattern overwhelm the vase and lemons. Matisse flattens foreground and background so that the painting is all about color and pattern.

• Julie Lange’s Clutch has an original, abstract pattern screen printed on hot pink fabric.

• Rhonda Michaels’ Bracelet combines hot pink moonstone with magenta and chartreuse accents.

• Heartsncrafts gives new life to these Frames with a coat of fuschia.

Summer Salad

• No one has examined fruit, vegetables, and tableware more closely than Luis Meléndez. His Cucumbers and Tomatoes (1772) records the texture of the produce and rough wood table with almost clinical precision. The arrangement appears incidental, as if the painter caught this moment just before someone was making a salad. Meléndez gives simple objects the utmost care. The regal quality of his still lifes stems from his ambition to become a court painter. Although he didn’t get that job, the prince who later became King Charles IV of Spain commissioned Meléndez to paint a series of still lifes for his private museum, the New Cabinet of Natural History.

• Jeff LiaBraaten’s Tomato Red Pillow creates a bold statement on finely printed cotton.

• Karen and Gina’s Cuff Bracelet has a sleek, red finish with a gold lining.

• Kelly Reid’s Satchel looks incredibly luscious in tomato red leather.