First Pineapple in Europe
Today is the anniversary of the death of the inspiring female Dutch collector, paper artist, illustrator, and horticulturist, Agnes Block.
A Dutch Mennonite, Agnes first married a silk merchant named Hans de Wollf. His income made it possible for Agnes to pursue her many passions. The Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel praised her illustrations and art, while the Dutch artist Jan Weenix forever captured the image of Agnes and her second husband, also a silk merchant, in their outdoor courtyard at their place called Vijverhof.
Agnes had purchased Vijverhof, which was located just outside Amsterdam, after the death of her first husband. She had married again when she was 45. At Vijverhof, Agnes collected curiosities, and she installed gardens that were filled with rare and novel plants. Indeed, the many exotics plants and various elements of her garden - like the arbors - became the primary subjects of many pieces of her work. Also, Agnes commissioned some of the top botanical artists of her time to capture the beauty of the plants and insects at Vijverhof. In fact, history tells us that her gardens were so impressive that they even made royalty jealous.
During her lifetime, Agnes was able to experiment and work in an area that was mostly reserved for men. Today, most gardeners are surprised to learn that it was Agnes Block who successfully grew the first pineapple in Europe in 1687 - thanks to her hothouses. In a nod to her accomplishment, when Jan Weenix painted Agnes in her garden, he made sure to include the tropical pineapple.
Sadly, Block's work was lost to time, but many famous painters captured aspects of her gardens at Vijverhof - including the great Maria Sybilla Merian.