Monday, December 17, 2012

Brueghel, Jan the Elder

Flowers in a Wooden Vessel
oil on Wood
98.0 x 73.0 cm (38.58 x 28.74 in.)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568 -1625) was a Flemish painter, second son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and father of Jan Brueghel the Younger. He was a painter of Landscapes and still-life work of Flowers, as well as allegorical and religious subjects. He was born in Brussels just one year before his father’s death, and then, following the death of his mother in 1578, Jan, along with his brother Pieter Brueghel the Younger and sister Marie were reared and trained by a grandmother, painter-miniaturist, in Antwerp.

He had several nicknames endeared to him, including, Velvet Brueghel, Flower Brueghel and Paradise Brueghel. Velvet was the recognition of his fashionable taste in Velvet cloth, where flower recognized his still life pieces and paradise was born of his popular representations for the Garden of Eden. The nicknames were to some extent an effort to distinguish between members of the same Brueghel family. His father was often called the "Peasant" Brueghel and Jan's elder brother, Pieter was called "Hell Brueghel" because he exploited the growing market for pictures of hell-fire and demons.

Jan was the second generation in a dynasty of Flemish painters. He worked from nature. Bringing home the flora he depicted in his tightly composed still lifes, he often went great distances to find rare examples. By the time Jan began painting, "Turkish" flowers such as tulips and hyacinths had appeared in Europe, as well as American plants such as marigolds, nasturtiums, and sunflowers. Jan's reputation as a master at painting flowers is notable because of the newness of the genre, and he was proud of his mastery of minute detail. When flowering plants had run their course around August, landscape season began. He worked in an entirely different spirit from his father, depicting brilliantly colored, lush woodland scenes. His exquisite flower paintings were rated the finest of the day.

He was celebrated in his own time, becoming dean of the Antwerp painters' guild by 1602. He traveled widely throughout Europe. During a three-year trip to Italy in the mid-1590s, he gained the patronage of Cardinal Federigo Borromeo, who delighted in Brueghel's unrealistic spaces and unexpected vistas combined with flowers and animals depicted from life. And later, in 1610, he was appointed court painter to the archdukes of Habsburg Austria.

Jan mixed the past - artificial, jam-packed Mannerist compositions - with a modern insistence on observation from nature. He frequently provided lush, warm-toned woodland scenes densely populated with exotic animals and flowers as frames for other artists' figures. He worked primarily in Antwerp and was a friend of Peter Paul Rubens, with whom he sometimes collaborated in painting flowers, landscape, and animals in canvases in which Rubens supplied the human figure.

Jan's position in society and among his fellow artists was assured during his lifetime: he solidified the family reputation established by his famous father, and his works were very influential. His style was perpetuated by his sons Jan Brueghel II and Ambrosius Brueghel,  whose sons then carried on the tradition into the 18th century. Jan died in a cholera epidemic that swept through Antwerp in 1625.