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Agnes Block’s flower drawings: a technical study

The Fitzwilliam Museum has one of the finest collections of flower paintings and botanical drawings in the world. Nestled within it is a group of around fifteen flower drawings by Willem de Heer (1638–1681), Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) and Alida Withoos (c.1661/2–1730) that were commissioned by the notable botanist and art collector, Agnes Block (1629–1704). She commissioned many artists to paint the plants in her garden at her country estate, Vijverhof, on the River Vecht near Utrecht. 

Hettie Ward and Nathan Daly are undertaking a technical study of the drawings to relook at attribution: while the attribution of the drawings to Merian are certain, others are less so as they vary in quality and style and in some instances, two artists may have worked on one drawing. To get a more accurate picture of Block’s collection, we are using non-destructive analytical methods (including fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy [FORS], X-ray fluorescence [XRF] spectroscopy, optical microscopy and infrared imaging) to discover more about the way in which the drawings were made and help us and other scholars to identify different artists’ styles as well as determine the drawings’ potential collaborative nature. This in turn may give us a more accurate picture of Block’s patronage and help us to understand her relationships with the artists, and whether patterns or favouritisms emerge.

This project is led by the following research questions:

Related publications

Ward, H. ‘Exchanging seeds: Agnes Block and her Flower Drawings’ The Power of Flowers (1500–1750), Ghent University, 14–15 June 2023.

 Daly, N.S.; Ward, H.; Hermens, E. Assessing attribution and artist materials and methods of botanical drawings using non-invasive technical analysis. Poster at TECHNART 2023, Lisbon, Portugal. May 2023.

 Daly, N.S.; Ward, H.; Hermens, E. Non-invasive analysis of materials and methods used in botanical drawings. Presentation at the Growing Networks symposium, Cambridge, UK. Jan 2023.

Project team

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