Brueghel Family Flemish Painters

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Brueghel Family
Flemish painters

The Brueghels were a family of Flemish* painters who worked primarily in the city of Antwerp in present-day Belgium. They are best known for their landscapes, still lifes*, and paintings of scenes from everyday life. The most famous member of the family was Pieter Brueghel the Elder. His sons, Pieter the Younger and Jan, also achieved considerable success.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569). Born in the Flemish village of Bruegel, Pieter studied with the prominent artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst and joined the artists' guild* in Antwerp. In the early 1550s Brueghel spent several years in southern France, Italy, and the Alps. Then he returned to Antwerp, where he worked until he moved to Brussels in 1563. He married Mayken Coecke, the daughter of his former teacher, and they had two children, Pieter the Younger and Jan.

Brueghel's career falls into two major phases, divided by his move from Antwerp to Brussels. While in Antwerp, he produced many prints, including landscapes, satires*, and scenes of peasant life. Brueghel also began to paint in Antwerp. These early works were allegories* inspired by Flemish culture and traditions.

After moving to Brussels, Brueghel concentrated on painting rather than on printmaking. He had many important patrons* in the city, including wealthy government officials and the Roman Catholic cardinal. He produced both individual paintings and groups of related works, such as the Labors of the Months (1565), which portray activities typical of different seasons.

Brueghel's art shows the influence of the Flemish tradition of realism*. He drew inspiration from the work of artists such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. He was also fascinated by the art of Hieronymus Bosch, a leading Flemish painter of the late 1400s and early 1500s. Brueghel's interest in Bosch emerged in his early print designs and continued to inspire some of his later paintings.

Brueghel's works cover a wide variety of subjects, including landscapes, religious figures, allegories, peasant scenes, and illustrations of Flemish proverbs. His landscapes range from pictures of the local countryside to great vistas inspired by his travels in the Alps. The sweeping views reveal a sense of grandeur that sets him apart from earlier Flemish artists.

Brueghel's allegorical paintings present witty satires of human folly, often based on themes from Flemish literature. His peasant scenes also display a vigorous sense of humor. Two of his most famous paintings, Peasant Dance and Peasant Wedding, reveal keen observation of human behavior.

Highly prized for their realism, Brueghel's paintings became part of some of the major art collections of the Renaissance, including those of Rudolf II (Holy Roman Emperor, 1576–1612) and two of the governors of the Spanish Netherlands. Widely copied and imitated, the artist's peasant scenes and landscapes deeply influenced the work of later Dutch and Flemish painters, such as Peter Paul Rubens.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1638). The elder son of Pieter the Elder, Pieter the Younger spent his entire life in Antwerp. He joined the city's artists' guild in 1585. Pieter the Younger painted religious subjects as well as numerous scenes of fires and hell that earned him the nickname "Hell Brueghel." He also specialized in producing copies or reworked versions of his father's paintings, particularly the scenes of peasant festivities. In his finest works, Pieter the Younger came close to matching the quality achieved by his father. However, he also produced many less successful pictures.

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625). Born shortly before his father's death, Jan was raised by his grandmother, an artist who painted miniatures. She was one of Jan's early art teachers.

As a young man, Jan traveled to Germany. In about 1589 he went to Italy, where he painted a number of works for Cardinal Federigo Borromeo. Jan returned to Antwerp in 1596 and six years later became head of the artists' guild. He also served as court painter to the governors of the Spanish Netherlands. Jan was a close friend of the artist Peter Paul Rubens, who painted a portrait of Jan and his family.

Jan the Elder specialized in landscapes, still lifes, pictures of animals, and rural scenes showing people at work and play. His earliest landscapes reflect the influence of his father. However, he later developed his own style, creating extremely detailed scenes in glowing, jewellike colors. Often painted on copper, these rich images earned him the nickname "Velvet Brueghel." He often worked with other artists, including Rubens.

Jan's numerous works became extremely popular and were copied and imitated well into the 1700s. Two of his sons, Jan the Younger and Ambrosius, also became painters. Both of these sons had sons who carried on the Brueghel family tradition as artists.

(See alsoArt; Art in the Netherlands. )

* Flemish

referring to Flanders, a region along the coasts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands

* still life

picture of inanimate objects, such as flowers or fruit

* guild

association of craft and trade owners and workers that set standards for and represented the interests of its members

* satire

literary or artistic work ridiculing human wickedness and foolishness

* allegory

literary or artistic device in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities, and in which the author or artist intends a different meaning to be read beneath the surface

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* realism

artistic treatment of a subject that strives to reflect its true nature or appearance

see color plate 13, vol. 1