Butterflies, Insects, and Currants
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Jan van Kessel
Flemish, about 1650 - 1655
Bodycolor and brown ink, over metalpoint underdrawing on parchment
5 1/8 x 6 11/16 in.

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Luminous red and white currants provide perches for various species of insects, while others crawl and hover over the page. Moths, beetles, wasps, flies, a ladybird, and a caterpillar are set in rows. Jan van Kessel I was one of the first artists to create horizontally arranged drawings of fruits and flowers, giving structure to essentially scientific analyses of insects. Instead of a specific setting, he preferred to use a blank ground, which allowed him to arrange the insects and fruits according to shifting yet interconnected vantage points.

Van Kessel probably made this tight drawing in the studio, based on close sketches from nature. He used bodycolor to show volume, as in the luminous, patterned wings of the moths. Transparent washes represent the light effects, cast from a light source that creates dark shadows along the right sides of wings and underneath the insect's bodies, lifting them from the ground. Van Kessel assembled these insects to emphasize each specimen's crisp shapes and markings.