Paolo Porpora was nicknamed ‘Paoluccio dei Fiori’ (Paoluccio of Flowers). Born in Naples, at the age of fifteen he entered the studio of Giacomo Recco (1603-1653), who, with Luca Forte (c.1615-c.1670), was one of the earliest exponents of Neapolitan flower paintings. In 1650 Porpora moved to Rome where he encountered the work of Dutch flower painters. Their influence can be seen in this sparkling and luscious still life, which is larger than most Dutch flower paintings.
On a ledge sits an urn containing a vast array of flowers, including dahlias, irises, campanulas, narcissus, calendulas, chrysanthemums, peonies, tuberoses and tulips. The urn is decorated with a relief showing a Bacchanal of the Putti, a playful scene that is based on a design by the Flemish sculptor François Duquesnoy (1597–1643). The painting has a dark underside, with danger and decay suggested by the snake darting out from below the urn to snap at the moth, and the dry leaves within the arrangement, which are just beginning to curl.
Paolo Porpora Still Life with Flowers in an Urn, Butterflies and a Snake About 1650s © Compton Verney