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Jan Brueghel I(Brussels1568 - Antwerp1625)

Brueghel was the second son of the great peasant painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1625-1569). Unlike his brother Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637), Jan did not merely imitate his illustrious father’s work, but forged a highly unique and original style of his own. As mentioned above, at the age of twenty-one, he made the traditional trip to Italy, where he had a highly beneficial and reciprocal artistic relationship with the Bril brothers. When in Milan, he also won the favour of the renowned collector Cardinal Federigo Borromeo (1564-1631), for whom he executed paintings throughout his career. By October 1596 he had returned to Antwerp, where he soon joined the Guild of St. Luke, becoming dean in 1602. He went on to become one of the most important and sought after of Flemish artists, alongside his close friend Rubens. Both artists served as non-resident painters at the court of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella, the Habsburg regents of the Netherlands.

‘One of the most celebrated and successful Flemish artists of his day’, Brueghel specialised in both landscapes and still lifes. His subtly detailed paintings and finely observed surfaces earned him the sobriquet ‘Velvet Breughel’. It is thought that he operated a large workshop, possibly comparable in size to that of Rubens. He also collaborated repeatedly with other artists, including Rubens, Hendrick van Balen, Frans Snyders and Sebastian Vrancx, and most frequently, de Momper. In addition to the present work, the two artists are known to have worked together on at least 58 other paintings. Theirs is perhaps the most interesting of Brueghel’s artistic collaborations because ‘it was Brueghel who, in an unusual role reversal, supplied the figures for De Momper’s landscapes’, in contrast to Brueghel’s more usual role as a landscape artist.

After his death from cholera in 1625, Brueghel was followed by many imitators, including his son Jan Brueghel II. Brueghel II’s A Coastal Landscape with a Capriccio of the Scipii (Private Collection) is a fine example of the way he adapted themes and motifs from his father’s work.

Like Brueghel, de Momper was a key figure in the Antwerp artistic community. By the age of seventeen he had already become a master at the Guild of St. Luke, and shortly after he travelled to Italy. During his career he worked extensively for Antwerp’s illustrious patrons, and in 1626 was granted exemption from wine and beer taxes and from all civic duties, in acknowledgement of his years of service to the archdukes. De Momper was an important figure in the mannerist, fantastical landscapes, in the tradition of Joachim Patinir (c. 1480-1524), to the more naturalistic landscapes of the seventeenth century. In addition to Brueghel, he collaborated with a number of staffage painters and his legacy to Flemish landscape painting is considerable.