Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Creeping Thistle and Borage

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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Insects crawl on and around a spray of creeping thistle and borage flowers, all casually arranged to appear natural. But the creamy white surface is reminiscent of vellum, the prepared animal skin that was used for manuscripts and miniatures, highlighting the artificial nature of this composition. The specimens are painted from different angles and viewpoints. The large tortoiseshell butterfly, crane fly and elephant hawk moth sitting on the leaves and stem of the creeping thistle are seen from the side, while most of the other insects, placed directly on the ground, are seen from above. This indicates that Jan van Kessel worked from a number of different sources, relying on illustrations in scientific books as well as actually studying insects himself .

The National Gallery, London



Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Creeping Thistle and Borage




oil on wood


H 11.8 x W 14.7 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

gift from the collection of Willem Baron van Dedem, 2017

Work type



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