© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Herman Saftleven, Dutch (Rotterdam, Netherlands 1609 - 1685 Utrecht, Netherlands)
Mullein Pink
Work Type
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Transparent and opaque watercolor and brown ink over graphite, some glazing in green areas, on cream antique laid paper
20 x 15.7 cm (7 7/8 x 6 3/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Lower left, brown ink, HS. [in ligature] f. 1680
  • inscription: former mount, verso, brown ink: Lychnis coronaria flore rubro simplici
  • watermark: Fragment of a horn in shield with crown; related to Heawood 2686–2693 (England or London, 1680– 1695)
  • inscription: verso, upper center, brown ink: A:a
  • inscription: Former mount, interior, lower right, graphite: H Saftleven "Petunias"
  • inscription: Former mount, verso, upper left, typed label: International Exhibition Foundation / "SEVENTEENTH CENTURY DUTCH DRAWINGS FROM AMERICAN COLLECTIONS" / 45. Herman Saftleven / A Flower [underlined] / Lent by Maida and George Abrams
  • inscription: Former mount, verso, upper left, printed and typed label: No. SE.1977.6.45 / Artist Herman Saftleven / Title A Flower / Date 1680 / Medium Chalk and washes / Dimensions 24 1/4 x 18 1/4" / Credit line Maida and Geo. Abrams Coll. / THE DENVER ART MUSEUM
  • inscription: Former mount, verso, upper left, printed label: LOT NO. / E-3032 / 009 / SECURITY / Wash., D.C.
  • collector's mark: verso, lower left, blue ink stamp: L. 3306 (Maida and George Abrams)
Agneta Block, Vijverhof, The Netherlands. Perhaps Samuel van Huls, The Hague, sold; [Swart, The Hague, 14 May 1736, under portfs. YYY and ZZZ, lot 3882.] Perhaps Jan Bisschop, sold; [Bosch et al., Rotterdam, 24 June 1771, kb K, under lots 70-89]; lots 70-72, 75-78, 81-84, and 89 to H. van den Bergh, lots 73-74, 79-80, 85-86, and 88 to D. de Jongh, lot 87 to Fouquet. Perhaps heirs of Michiel van den Bergh, Rotterdam, sold; [Holsteyn, Rotterdam, 19 June 1786, kb D, lots 4, 14-26]; to Philippie. Or instead perhaps the heirs of Daniel de Jongh, sold; [Van Ryp, Rotterdam, 26 March 1810, kb N, lots 55-61.] Janet and John E. Marqusee, New York, sold; [Sotheby’s, London, 13 December 1973, lot 155, repr. p. 82]; to [Baskett & Day, London], sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1974 (L. 3306, verso, lower left); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 1999.169.
Published Text
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 80 by Susan Anderson:

After a lifetime of producing Italianate and Dutch landscapes, topographical and architectural views, and genre scenes, Herman Saftleven turned to lush watercolors of botanical subjects. From the artist’s corpus of over 300 paintings, 1,400 drawings, and 40 etchings, Wolfgang Schulz catalogued 27 of these sheets, all executed between 1680 and 1684, ending several months before Saftleven’s death on January 5, 1685.2 The subject here, Lychnis coronaria —also known by the common names rose campion, dusty miller, and mullein pink—has been cultivated in Europe for centuries and is indigenous to the rocky hillsides of southern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.3 Another Saftleven watercolor of this genus bears his monogram and the date of July 7, 1682.4 Three others of varying subjects are known from 1680, the year of Harvard’s sheet: a rose with a bloom and two buds, known to Schulz;5 a rose with wide bloom and bud, appearing in the London trade in 1983;6 and another mullein pink, also from the Marqusee collection, in the New York trade in 2007 (Fig. 1).7

Saftleven often dated the watercolors he produced between 1682 and 1684 with the year, day, and month, all from spring and summer, indicating that he drew seasonally, and directly from blooming specimens. All drawings from this time period are on sheets of about 350 × 250 mm. The four known from 1680, however, bear no further dating and are on smaller paper, 200 × 157 mm; their simpler inscriptions and more modest format suggest that they were Saftleven’s initial forays into this new subject matter. The inscription identifying the species on the former mount of our drawing, while no longer extant, was consistent with taxonomic and descriptive Latin inscriptions applied around 1700 to many versos of Saftleven’s botanical studies.8

The amateur naturalist Agneta Block (1629–1704) likely commissioned Saftleven to depict specimens from her renowned gardens.9 Several months after the death of her first husband in 1670, Block purchased a country estate, Vijverhof, located along the Vecht river near Nieuwersluis. When not in her Amsterdam home, Block transformed Vijverhof with her talent for cultivating exotic plant specimens and her enthusiastic collecting of books, rarities, birds, and insects. She moved there permanently after the death of her second husband in 1694. In addition to Saftleven, Block commissioned other artists to draw from her collection of flora and fauna, including Otto Marseus van Schriek; Pieter Holsteyn II; Pieter and Alida Withoos; Willem de Heer (1678); Johannes Bronckhorst (1692, 2013.171); Rochus van Veen; and Maria Sibylla Merian (1696) and her daughter, Johanna Helena Herolt (1697).10 Saftleven and his pictorial watercolors appear to have held the premier position among this group, as he was singled out in a poem about Vijverhof in 1702: “Saftleven lives on here, through his artful style, so delicate and lively, on canvas and paper.”11


1 (This note refers to the provenance.) The early history of Saftleven’s botanical drawings remains ill defined, although it is likely that the drawings he did for Agneta Block, presumably including our sheet, remained together within only a few collections until about 1800. According to Valerius Röver’s posthumous inventory of 1739, he owned four portfolios (nos. 28–31) of watercolors by Vijverhof artists, including one, portfolio 30, dedicated solely to ninety-two of Saftleven’s botanical sheets—far more than are known today. Our drawing does not bear Röver’s mark, suggesting that Block’s heirs sold it to another source, probably Samuel van Huls, in whose sale two albums of Vijverhof artists appeared (14 May 1736, as lot 3882). These albums probably contained the same sheets that appeared in the 1771 estate sale of Jan Bisschop (not to be confused with the artist of a similar name), in which the works passed to only three hands: H. van den Bergh, D. de Jongh, and Fouquet. The drawings purchased by the first two remained in their families and were sold by their heirs in 1786 and 1810, respectively. As Schulz discussed in his article on Saftleven’s botanical drawings (Wolfgang Schulz, “Blumenzeichnungen von Herman Saftleven d. J,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 40, no. 2, 1977: 135–53), lot descriptions remain vague enough throughout to preclude certainty, although the trail is warm enough to warrant serious consideration.

2 Wolfgang Schulz, Herman Saftleven, 1609–1685: Leben und Werke; Mit einem kritischen Katalog der Gemälde und Zeichnungen (Berlin and New York, 1982), cat. 1443, p. 487, repr. fig. 237.

3 Peter Stevens, professor of biology at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and curator, Missouri Botanical Garden (former professor of biology and curator in the Arnold Arboretum and the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University), confirmed the identification of the flower. See William Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet; Vienna: Albertina; New York: Pierpont Morgan Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 1991), p. 218 (n. 5).

4 Schulz (1982), cat. 1423, p. 482, repr. fig. 220.

5 Ibid., cat. 1421, p. 482, inscribed “Rosa Batavica odorata.”

6 See Gerta Calmann, Discovery of Nature: Botanical Drawings from Europe and Asia, 1650–1850 (London: Eyre & Hobhouse, 1983), cat. 9, p. 14, repr. pl. 17.

7 Herman Saftleven, Mullein Pink (Fig. 1). Transparent watercolor, 199 × 157 mm. Sotheby’s, New York, 24 January 2007, lot 54, repr.

8 Schulz (1982), pp. 95–96; and 1977, pp. 144–45 and 149–53.

9 Schulz (1982), pp. 96–98; and 1977, pp. 138–41 and 143.

10 Schulz (1982), pp. 98–101; and 1977, pp. 141–42. For more on Agneta Block, see John Dixon Hunt and Erik de Jong, The Anglo-Dutch Garden in the Age of William and Mary (Apeldoorn: Rijksmuseum Paleis Het Loo; London: Christie’s) Journal of Garden History, vol. 8, nos. 2–3, (April–Sept. 1988), pp. 74 and 121–22.

11 Robinson, p. 218 (n. 2). The poem, by Gualtherius Blok, reads in part, “Maar laat ons snuffelen, en Wanden, Kassen, Hoeken / met Schilderijen, Prent- en Teken-konst doorsoeken. / Saftleven leeft hier, door sijn konstige manier, / so saft, en levendig op Doek en op Papier / . . . .” See also Schulz (1977), p. 142.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Exhibition of Thirty Old Master Drawings of the Northern Schools, auct. cat., Baskett and Day (London, England, 1974), cat. no. 30, n.p., repr.

Wolfgang Schulz, "Blumenzeichnungen von Herman Saftleven d. J.", Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (1977), vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 135-153, no. 1, p. 149, repr. p. 140, fig. 3

Franklin W. Robinson, Seventeenth Century Dutch Drawings from American Collections, exh. cat., International Exhibitions Foundation (Washington, D.C, 1977), cat. no. 45, pp. xiii, xvi and 50-51, repr.

The Draughtsman at Work. Drawing in the Golden Century of Dutch Art, checklist (unpublished, 1980), no. 21

W. Schulz, Herman Saftleven, 1609-1685: Leben und Werke: mit einem kritischen Katalog..., De Gruyter (Berlin, Germany and New York, NY, 1982), cat. no. 1420, pp. 96 and 481, repr. fig. 221

William W. Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., H. O. Zimman, Inc. (Lynn, MA, 1991), cat. no. 100, pp. 218-19 and 9, repr.

George S. Keyes, "[Review] Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings. A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection", Master Drawings (Winter 1992), vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 443-448, p. 446

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., From Botany to Bouquets: Flowers in Northern Art, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C, 1999), cat. no. 41, pp. 57 and 85, repr. p. 56, fig. 47

Old Master Drawings, auct. cat. (January 24, 2007), under lot 54, p. 85

The I. Q. van Regteren Altena Collection. Part 1, auct. cat., Christie's, London (London, July 10, 2014), under lot 70

Stijn Alsteens, [Review] William W. Robinson, with Susan Anderson, "Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums", Master Drawings (Winter 2015), LIII, no. 4, pp. 531-534, p. 534

William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 80, pp. 269-271, repr. p. 270; watermark p. 381

Exhibition History

Exhibition of Thirty Old Master Drawings of the Northern Schools, Baskett and Day, London, 04/02/1974 - 04/26/1974

Seventeenth Century Dutch Drawings from American Collections, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 01/30/1977 - 03/13/1977; Denver Art Museum, Denver, 04/01/1977 - 05/15/1977; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 06/01/1977 - 07/15/1977

The Draughtsman at Work. Drawing in the Golden Century of Dutch Art, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 11/21/1980 - 01/04/1981

Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 02/23/1991 - 04/18/1991; Albertina Gallery, Vienna, 05/16/1991 - 06/30/1991; Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 01/22/1992 - 04/22/1992; Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 10/10/1992 - 12/06/1992

32Q: 2300 Dutch & Flemish, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/09/2017 - 09/08/2017

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Google Art Project

Collection Highlights

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu