Floral Arrangements Inspired by The Dutch Masters

Dear flower lovers...

what do flowers say to you? Do they speak secret poetry, or sing in chorus as you pass them by? Do they whisper love spells to a valentine or offer open invitations to stoop and breathe in their perfume? 

When setting your table for guests, friends, and loved ones to gather around, consider what a flower does for you and in turn does for those you invite into your home. Flower arrangements are an age old choice for adding beauty to any occasion, yet why is that? Pursuing the beauty of a thing does not necessarily relate to the survival of humankind, especially when a flower provides no real sustenance, warmth, or energy. However, humans have always had a funny way of surrounding themselves with beauty...simply for the joy it makes us feel.

Consider, too, the relationship we have to flowers. The seeking of them in an expanse of field, the bending down to breathe in their scent, the careful curation of a few  stems, and the expression of one's self in arranging them. The relationship is physical and the actions live in our muscles. Of course, then when these actions are motivated by the making of memories (flowers for birthdays, holidays, weddings, surprise gifts to celebrate nothing at all), the relationship inherently becomes emotional too. And while embracing our emotional connection to nature is invaluable, can we not also agree that the pursuit of joy in and of itself might be as integral to survival and nearly as nourishing as food and water any way? Think on it...


Drawing Inspiration from the Dutch Golden Era

Though a single stem of hollyhock suspended in a jar of water offers a undeniable prettiness to every day ambiance in the home, there's something magical about celebrating a special moment with a full bouquet.

Certainly, the Dutch masters knew that, and captured the abundance, the warmth, the bursting joy of a full arrangement in their still lives. Think Rachel Ruysch, Willem van Aelst, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Their bold color palettes, contrasting dark backgrounds, and utterly decadent arrangements give an almost mouth-watering view of natural beauty, and the celebration of it in a most primal form: admiration of nature, and using human creativity to display it in a digestible and intriguing way. 

Take a look at a few of our favorite floral still lives from painters of the Dutch Golden Era and consider drawing inspiration for your table this coming holiday season.  

Adored Vintage / Floral Inspiration for Centerpieces and Home

Vase of Flowers With Watch, by Willem van Aeslt (via essentialvermeer.com)


Rachel Ruysch / Dutch Golden Era / Inspiration for Floral Centerpieces  Maria van Oosterwyck / Dutch Golden Era / Inspiration for Floral Centerpieces 

Left: Summer Flowers by Rachel Ruysch (via arthive.com)  Right: A Vase of Flowers, by Maria van Oosterwyck (via artuk.org)


Arranging Floral Centerpieces in the Modern Era

Ephemera / Adored Vintage Floral Inspiration / Centerpieces for Holidays Ideas

Speaking of creating your own classical painting-inspired arrangement, we are in awe of New York based florist, Nicole Absher, who does just that and with flying colors. Nicole is the owner and artist behind e p h e m e r a, provider of floral arrangements worthy of their own Dutch Golden Era painted still life portraits. Continue reading to gain insight into e p h e m e r a, through Nicole's words herself.

Ephemera / Adored Vintage Floral Inspiration / Centerpieces for Holidays Ideas

"Formerly a Painter, I arrived at floral arranging after seeking solace in New York City’s botanical gardens, visiting season after season, eagerly anticipating the next round of blossoms to display. Perhaps if I hadn’t moved to a Metropolis far from the woods I grew up in I would have never realized the importance of nature in my life without these impressionable moments in the gardens. A seed was planted and a mild curiosity grew into a passion and a new artistic means of expression formed around everything flower."


Ephemera / Adored Vintage Floral Inspiration / Centerpieces for Holidays Ideas

"The name of my floral design company, ephemera, is a nod to the word’s origin. Meaning something that is short lived, lasting only for one day. Fleeting beauty like the Autumn leaves falling. Or perhaps your Daughter’s Wedding Night when everyone she has ever loved has gathered to celebrate from the far corners of the world and may never be in the same room again. We live fully in these moments knowing to enjoy them while they last."

Ephemera / Adored Vintage Floral Inspiration / Centerpieces for Holidays Ideas

"But the name also takes root in a quote I read from the work of Carl Jung in my early twenties. When I first encountered the word ephemeral:

'Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost a sense of something that lives and endures underneath the eternal flux. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.' - Carl Jung

I get a great sense of optimism from that quote. It brought me to a deeper understanding of why I love what I do, and that despite the short span of time a flower blooms it’s memory endures in the hearts of loved ones. My artistic mission is to bring that experience to you."

Ephemera / Adored Vintage Floral Inspiration / Centerpieces for Holidays Ideas

Creating Your Own Floral Arrangement

Now to take the inspiration into your own hands. Whether it's for an upcoming holiday, birthday, other celebration or just for enjoying at your home (which we highly recommend doing), here are our personal tips for creating a DIY bouquet:

  1. Stick to a Reserved Color Palette. Of course, we're biased toward muted shades here at AV, but flowers are perhaps the best exception to this rule. Choose any color you like for your "pop color" (the shade that stands out amongst the rest of the bouquet) and then the "support colors" (the plants and flowers that fill in the bouquet and compliment the star of the show). We love arrangements that are almost monochromatic, with variants between the shades and those rare pops of a different color for contrast.
  2. Use What's Around You. This is a piece of your self-expression, after all! Whether you have pretty vintage vases or a collection of old pickle and jam jars, or even a single beloved picnic basket, we appreciate the personal touch (and low cost) of using what you might already have.
  3. Trust in the Foundation. Just like the right underpinnings make the world's difference when wearing a vintage "New Look" dress, using a reliable foundation can combat the drooping effects of gravity and offer more options in creating interesting shapes and silhouettes. Styrofoam is a common choice, though it is very unfriendly to the environment, not to mention messy if you cut into it. We recommend finding some florist wire and bunching it into a ball that you place into your vase/vessel, which you can then stick stems through.
  4. Enjoy the moment...and the deep sense of peacefulness one feels when gently interacting with nature. Pause for a minute, breathing in the sense of calm that a tender moment can provide, exhaling the intention for beauty and joy that your arrangement will bring to you and loved ones. 

        If you enjoyed this post, please let us know by leaving a comment down below. 

        For more information on Nicole's work, visit her website: nicoleabsher.com, or follow her on instagram, at @e_p_h_e_m_e_r_a, where she posts photos of her work, original paintings, and news about the delightful world of e p h e m e r a.

        All photos of e p h e m e r a arrangements were taken by Nicole Absher.

        Thank you for your lovely words, Nicole. 

        And thank you, dear reader, for indulging in this post dedicated to the beauty of flowers. 


        This piece was written by Devon Rawlings for Adored Vintage


        Reviews (2 comments)

        • Connie Wiley On

          My sweet and talented niece, Nicole. We can’t wait to see her creations for her cousins wedding in May! So proud of you! Aunt Connie

        • Nicole On

          What a wonderful and inspiring piece of writing extolling the beauty and value of flowers and nature.
          I am a florist myself and totally agree with all the enriching experiences flowers provide even though they provide ‘no warmth nor any physical comfort’ other than the fact that their beauty and mere existence enliven our souls.
          The pursuit of beauty and well being are linked, and explains why we look at paintings, arrange glowers, plant gardens and most of all buy floral dresses!

          I love the new Adored Vintage, the regular postings of images and words are like ‘sugar which helps the medicine go down!’ Life is peppered with difficulties. However the existence of beauty, like hope, brings so much joy we forget all that is unbearable.

          Thank you for the joy, AV!

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