Van der Ast was a Dutch painter who specialised in floral still lifes. Their chronology is difficult to establish as he only signed his paintings between 1620 and 1628. He was born in Middelburg at some point between 30 June 1593 and 13 September 1594. In 1609 on the death of his father, the merchant Hans van der Ast, Balthasar went to live with his sister Maria and her husband, the painter Ambrosius Bosschaert, with whom he trained as a painter until the age of around 21. The Bosschaert family moved to Bergenop- Zoom in 1615, and one year later to Utrecht. Van der Ast probably went with them, although he is not documented in Utrecht until 1619 when he is registered in the guild of Saint Luke in that city. He remained in Utrecht for fifteen years and his first known works date from this period. They reveal the marked influence of his master Bosschaert. During this period Van der Ast was active in the city’s artistic life and became close friends with Roelandt Savery, who also lived there and with whom he shared an interest in flowers and animals.
In 1632 Van der Ast moved to Delft where he is registered in the painter’s guild from 22 June. The following year he acquired citizenship and married Margrieta Jansdr. van Beuren, with whom he had two daughters. Van der Ast remained in Delft until his death in 1657. Like those of his master Bosschaert, Van der Ast’s floral still lifes are characterised by their vertical structure and the symmetrical form of the bouquet. Van der Ast introduced a new element in the form of shells that reflect the contemporary interest in collecting exotic objects. Another distinctive feature is the realism of his compositions and the importance that he placed on the depiction of animals and insects such as lizards, grasshoppers, toads and butterflies, probably inspired by Savery’s work. He also experimented with other compositions organised around a single flower in a vase or isolated flowers on a table top that look forward to the work of Jan van Kessel and Adriaen Coorte.