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Balen, Hendrick van

Antwerp, 1575, 1632

He received his training from Adam van Noort and Martin de Vos. In 1592–1593, he entered the Guild of Saint Luke as a master in the city of Antwerp. Shortly afterwards, he travelled to Italy where he remained until 1600–1602, visiting Rome and Venice. There is no record of his works from his time in Italy, although his early paintings reveal a great similarity to the works of Annibale Carracci and Palma the Younger. The venetian influence on his oeuvre is perceptible in the clearly Mannerist postures of the figures, as well as in the female nudes. Although he produced, at the beginning of his career, altarpiece paintings where the powerful romanticist style inherited from Noort can be observed, Van Balen evolved towards a more colourful decorative style closer to the influence of Anthony Van Dyck, who is thought to have trained in his studio around 1609. He initially collaborated with some painters, namely Abel Grimmer, for whose View of Antwerp (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunste, Antwerp) he painted the figures. However, it was his cabinet painting that achieved the greatest success, with a strong emphasis on several themes, including the four elements, the feast of the gods and similar depictions that allowed him to place beautiful nudes in paradisiacal natural settings. He collaborated frequently with Jan Brueghel de Velours and the two artists produced numerous works together, where Brueghel produced the garlands of flowers, while Van Balen painted the figures. One of the finest examples of this pictorial partnership is Abundance and the four Elements (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan). The artist known as Joost de Momper also collaborated with Van Balen, painting landscape backgrounds. Furthermore, there are also records of other works with Lucas van Uden, Jan Wildens and Frans Snyders. Other source of inspiration for Van Balen was the Roman Taddeo Zuccaro, from whom he took rigid structural schemes that he used in his early cabinet works, for instance, in the Wedding of Bacchus and Ariadne (Museum der Bildende Künsten, Leipzig). Around 1608, his compositional style changed to more dynamic schemes which were better arranged on the plane, where repoussoir figures and the luminous contrasts between dark and illuminated areas, visible in the The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), were very common. His paintings have often been confused with those of Hans Rottenhammer. This fact can be explained by the affinity of their oeuvre to that of Palma the Younger. His works in the Museo del Prado are emblematic of his most common creations: allegorical depictions surrounded by festoons of fruit and flowers, of the four elements and the four seasons, some in collaboration with Brueghel. Among his paintings in the Prado, only one, The Adoration of the Magi, stands out for its distinctive religious subject. Therefore, it must be chronologically related to the religious works that Van Balen produced when he was one of the most sought-after altarpiece painters in Antwerp around 1615, best exemplified by The Holy Trinity (St. Jacob’s Cathedral, Antwerp) (Pérez Preciado, J. J. in E.M.N.P., 2006, II, pp. 444-445).

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