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Monday, May 14, 2012

An Extraordinary Watercolor of Tulips Attributed to Johann Theodore de Bry (1561-1623)

 Attributed to Johann Theodore de Bry (1561-1623)
Watercolor of tulips, c. 1630
Paper size: 15 1/2 x 7 7/8 inches
Framed: 20 x 15 inches
Provenance: Hunt Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh

This extraordinary watercolor of tulips is by Johann Theodor de Bry, a prominent member of one of the foremost families of artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the son of Theodor de Bry and the grandfather of Maria Sybilla Merian.  His father was famed for being the publisher of the series Great Voyages, which was issued from 1590 until 1630.  The Great Voyages consisted of illustrated travel narratives that remain fundamental artistic and historical documents of the Age of Discovery, and Johann Theodor began his publishing career by assisting his father in that seminal enterprise.  Eventually, he would become the most prolific printmaker of the family, practicing both engraving and etching.  With his father and his brother Johann Israel, he published two popular emblem books: Emblemata nobilitate et vulgo scitu digna (1593) and Emblemata secularia (1611). 

De Bry is most acclaimed, however, for his great florilegia.  A florilegium was a type of illustrated flower book that became popular in the seventeenth century, and de Bry was responsible for two of the most beautiful florilegia of his time: the Florilegium novum (1611) and the Florilegium renovatum et auctum (1641), which he published along with his brother-in-law (and equally noted artist) Matthias Merian.

This watercolor of tulips is among the earleist representation of tulips painted in America. It is thought that the first tulip arrived in the United States in Massachusetts, particularly in the towns of Lynn and Salem, as part of the expansive Fay Estate, named after Richard Sullivan Fay, Esq., a wealthy merchant and manufacturer from Lynn. He imported both trees and plants from all over the world to occupy the land of his 500 acre estate.

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