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The Four Parts of the World
Kessel el Viejo, Jan van
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Kessel el Viejo, Jan van

Amberes, 1626 - Amberes, 1676

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The Four Parts of the World

1660. Oil on copperplate. Not on display

The Four Parts of the World, that is, the continents known at that time -Europe, Asia, Africa and America -became a very popular subject, as it was totally in keeping with that period’s interest in science. It therefore seems likely that these works may have been commissioned for the sort of cabinet of wonders (Wunderkammer) then fashionable among collectors. What seems unquestionable is that its relation with what were known as cosmographies in the 16th century -descriptions of cities, inhabitants, animals and plants ordered by continent. These series by Van Kessel consisted of four panels, each of which had a central painting with the personification of the corresponding continent surrounded by sixteen smaller depictions of their most important cities in the background. The foreground was occupied by animals of all species considered native to the corresponding continent. This ordering appears to be based on cartography from that period, when maps of the continents were illustrated with a multitude of real or imaginary animals surrounded by borders divided into small scenes with representations of the planets, the seasons and the four elements, or maps of countries surrounded by small vignettes with views of the most important cities.

These views of The Four Parts of the World belonged to one such series. Sadly, the Museo del Prado has only thirty-nine paintings from this one. The complete series was first documented as part of the collection of Charles IV (1748-1819), at the Casita del Príncipe. It must have been taken down and scattered after leaving Spain as part of José Bonaparte’s baggage.

Stylistically, Van Kessel imitates the miniatures painted by his grandfather, Jan Brueghel the elder. Each work follows the same compositional scheme: a view of a city visible behind a foreground filled with large animals of every species. This scheme was characteristic of 16th-century engravings by artists such as Joris Hoefnagle, and even more so, Adriaen Collaert, which seem to have inspired Van Kessel. They also appear to be the formal source of some of the animals, although others are copied from paintings by Jan Brueghel the elder, Jan Fyt, Frans Snyders, Paul de Vos and Reubens.

Despite their naturalism, the continued presence of animals and fantastic creatures in these series by Van Kessel suggests that, rather than objective or scientific description, he actually sought to represent the exotic (Text from Posada Kubissa, T.: El paisaje nórdico en el Prado: Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena, 2012, pp. 129-130).


Technical data

Inventory number
Kessel el Viejo, Jan van
The Four Parts of the World
Height: 175 cm.; Width: 123 cm.
Museo de la Trinidad (Bequest of Léopold Armand Hugo, conde Hugo de Cogolludo y Sigüenza, 1865), 1865-1872; Museo del Prado, 1872.

Bibliography +

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Steingraber, E., Jan van Kessel d. Ä. [i.e. der Ältere], 1626-1679die vier Er, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, 1973.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de pinturas. Escuela flamenca, Museo del Prado; Patrimonio Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975, pp. 170.

Robert-Jones, Ph, Bruegel. Une dynastie de peintres, EUROPALIA 80, Bruselas, 1980, pp. 319.

Importantes ventes aux encheres, Connaissance des arts, 1980, pp. 627.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 353-354.

Splendeurs d'Espagne et les villes belges: 1500-1700, EUROPALIA 85.ESPAÑA, Europalia 85 EspañaCrédit Communal, Bruselas, 1985, pp. 625.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: catálogo razonado de pintura flamenca del siglo XVII, Prensa Ibérica, Barcelona, 1996, pp. 646.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas, III, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1996, pp. nº171.

Enciclopedia del Museo del Prado, V, T.F. Editores: Fundación Amigos, Madrid, 2006, pp. 1361.

Carlos IV: mecenas y coleccionista, Patrimonio Nacional; Sociedad Estatal de Conmemoraciones Culturales, Madrid, 2009, pp. 227-228.

Posada Kubissa, Teresa, El paisaje nórdico en el Prado. Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2011, pp. 127-129,163-164, n 47a 47b 47c.

Ertz, Klaus, Jan van Kessel der Ältere, 1626-1679. Jan van Kessel der Jüngere, 1654-1708. Jan van Kessel der Andere, ca. 1620- ca.1661. Kritische Kataloge der Gemälde, Luca Verlag, Lingen, 2012, pp. 11,153-157. nº1-40..

Baadj, Nadia, Sketches of Simians and Savages on the Versos of Jan van Kessel's copper plates, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXX, 2012, pp. 72-83 / traducción p. 149-154.

Maurer, G., Goya: lo bello y lo recóndito. En: La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 264-267.

Mena Marqués, M.; Albarrán, V., La belleza encerrada: de Fra Angelico a Fortuny, folleto, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013, pp. 37 n.161-n.162.

Posada Kubissa, Teresa, Rubens, Brueghel, Lorrain. A Paisagem Nórdica do Museu do Prado, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga - INCM - Museo Nacional del Prado, Lisboa, 2013, pp. 127-131,160 n.47.

Mena Marqués, M.; Albarrán, V., Azúa, F. de, La belleza cautiva. Pequeños tesoros del Museo del Prado, Museo del Prado - Obra Social ''La Caixa'', Barcelona, 2014, pp. 142-143.

Other inventories +

Inv. Carlos IV, 1822. Núm. 160.

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 171.
Autor J.V. Kessel fecit 1660 / 171. Cuarenta cuadros pintados en cobre é incrustados en un tríptico que representa los diferentes animales que habitan el grobo. Los paisajes son muchos de ellos vistas de las principales ciudades en el siglo XVII. Aún se puede reconocer a Paris, Londres, Constantinopla, Amsterdam, Amberes... Dos de estos cuadros están firmados (J.V. Kessel Pintor 1660) / Alto 0,175 ancho 0,235 / Regalados al Museo Nacional por el Sr. Conde de Hugo según comunicación de la Dirección Gral. de Instrucción Pública de 22 de Dbre. de 1865

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 2188a.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1554.

Exhibitions +

Captive Beauty. Small Treasures at the Prado Museum
16.07.2014 - 05.01.2015

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
20.12.2012 - 24.02.2013

Rubens, Brueghel, Lorena. El paisaje nórdico en el Prado
Santiago de Compostela
01.12.2011 - 18.03.2012

Carlos IV, mecenas y coleccionista
22.04.2009 - 19.07.2009

América, esposa del sol
01.02.1992 - 31.05.1992

Update date: 16-10-2020 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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