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Brueghel the Elder, Jan (Jan 'Velvet' Brueghel)

Brussels, 1568 - Antwerp, 1625

Born to a family of extraordinary artists, he was the son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and grandson of Pieter Coecke and Mayken Verhulst Bessermers. Tradition has it that she was his first teacher, as his father died when he was a child. According to writer Karel van Mander his principal teacher was Pieter Goetkind. While he was somewhat influenced by the work of his brilliant father, he always followed his own inner voice rather than simply mimicking his father’s work, as his brother, Pieter, did. He was known as Brueghel de Velours (Brueghel of Velvet), of Flowers or of Paradise, in reference to his technique and some of his subject matter. He is also known as Jan Brueghel the Elder to distinguish him from his son, Jan, who was his skilled disciple and collaborator. During his lifetime he was very successful in both the professional and social realms, and in the 17th and 18th centuries his work attracted innumerable followers, although none reached his level of technical perfection. In 1590, he traveled to Naples, then on to Rome and Milan, where he lived at Cardinal Federico Borromeo’s house. Borromeo was one of his leading clients and admirers and they remained friends for the rest of his life. Brueghel returned to Antwerp in 1596 and became Dean of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1601. Following a stay in Prague in 1604, he made contact with Archduke and duchess Alberto and Isabel Clara Eugenia, sharing their favors with Rubens and becoming court painter in 1606. When the royal couple visited Antwerp in 1618, the municipal government decided to offer them a display of work by that city’s twelve finest painters, which consisted of two large canvases with allegories of the senses. Jan Brueghel was chosen to direct the project, and his collaborators included Rubens and Frans Snyders, among others. The two works, of which there replicas at the Museo del Prado, were “Vision and Smell” and its companion, Taste, Hearing and Touch, which is exactly the same size. The originals must have been lost when fire ravaged Coudenberg Palace in Brussels in 1731. The Museo del Prado also has a series of five panels with representations of the five senses that Brueghel painted with Peter Paul Rubens.
Jan Brueghel’s early style follows the 16th-century tradition shaped by landscape masters Joachim Patinir, Henri Met de Bles and Cornelis van Dalem, as well as Brueghel’s own father, Pieter Brueghel the Elder. However, by the beginning of the 17th century, his own innovative approach became visible as his earlier panoramic landscapes filled with mountains and lush forests shifted towards less picturesque and more realistic compositions, with flatter, less imaginary and closer terrain dominated by horizontal lines. During the first decade of the 17th century these fundamental changes evolved into a varied repertory that he continued to draw upon for the rest of his life. His close friends included Rubens, Joost de Momper, Hendrick van Balen and Sebastian Vrancx, and they often painted works together. While he successfully cultivated several genres, he is especially famous for his beautiful landscapes and still lifes, including kitchen scenes, garlands and flower paintings. He was one of the creators of cabinet paintings, but he also depicted religious, mythological and allegorical matters, as well as costumbrista genre scenes. His skill at figure painting is evident in his own work, but he also painted them for other artists, as can be seen in his long and fruitful collaboration with Joost de Momper, who painted the landscapes in those works. Examples include Field Trip with Isabel Clara Eugenia and The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia at Mariemont Park. Both are listed in the 1636 inventory of Madrid’s Alcázar Palace and are now at the Museo del Prado. They present scenes from the Infanta’s everyday life at her palace on the outskirts of Brussels, now destroyed, in company of her ladies in waiting. Sometimes, Brueghel painted the landscapes and left the figures to his collaborators, as can be seen in other significant works at the Prado. For example, around 1606, he painted the beautiful landscape in “Abundance and the Four Elements”, whose figures were painted by Brussels artist Hendrick de Clerk. Brueghel’s friendship with Rubens, who was godfather to his daughter Anna (David Teniers’ future wife), was both close and fruitful, and there are several examples at the Prado. Besides the two very important series on the senses, the portraits of Archduke Alberto and of Isabel Clara Eugenia were painted by Rubens in 1617, while the landscapes with Tervuren and Mariemont Palaces in the background are by Jan Breughel and are listed in the Alcázar’s 1636 inventory. Saint Hubert’s Vision is also by both, and is listed as such in the Alcázar’s 1686 inventory: “Saint Hubert by Rubens’ hand, the landscape, buck and horse, by Brueghel’s hand.” The Museo del Prado also has excellent landscapes painted exclusively by Jan Brueghel, including Gypsy Gathering in a Wood, from around 1614, which is listed in Philip V’s inventory at La Granja in 1746 and has a diagonal composition with a vast landscape in the background. Various fruit and flower paintings at the Museo del Prado reveal Brueghel’s unequalled capacity for such depictions. Indeed, his Virgin and Child has a marvelous festoon of flowers, vegetables, fruits and small animals that testify to his intense study of nature, his meticulous and precise drawings, minute brushstrokes and brilliant colors (Royo-Villanova, M. in: E.M.N.P., 2006, vol. II, pp. 564-567).

Artworks (55)

Paisaje
Oil on panel, s XVI - XVII century
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan; Momper II, Joost de
Bosque y casas
Oil on panel, Early Finales del siglo XVI - XVII century
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan (Discípulo de)
Landscape
Oil on copperplate, Ca. 1604
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan (Attributed to)
Path in a Forest
Oil on panel, 1600 - 1625
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan
Vase of Flowers
Oil on panel, 1600 - 1625
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan
Paisaje
Oil on panel, XVII century
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan (Workshop of)
Vase of Flowers
Oil on panel, First quarter of the XVII century
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan
Camino en la montaña
Oil on copperplate, XVII century
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan
Paisaje
Oil on panel, First quarter of the XVII century
Brueghel el Viejo, Jan

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