Kerstiaen de Keuninck the Elder - Jacob’s Dream
Jacob’s Dream
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Kerstiaen de Keuninck the Elder (Courtrai 1560 - Antwerp 1632)

Kerstiaen de Keuninck the Elder was a Flemish painter who, although from Courtrai, lived in Antwerp from an early age. He was listed in 1577 as one of the recipients of the Poor-box (armenbus) of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke, where he was received as master in 1580. He married in 1585. De Keuninck took on Carel de Ferrara as an apprentice in 1599. His son Kerstiaen de Keuninck the younger (d 1642–3) became a master in 1613. In 1629 Engel Ergo started an apprenticeship with a Kerstiaen de Keuninck: it is not clear whether this refers to father or son.

De Keuninck the Elder’s rather limited oeuvre consists solely of landscapes and disaster scenes. No drawings by him are known. In Keuninck’s early works (e.g. Rocky Landscape, New York, Metropolitan Museum), the composition, structured along diagonal lines, is dominated by fantastic mountains and rock formations. The foreground and peripheral motifs merge into a dark border that frames the distant landscape view; precise details tend to disappear, as in another Rocky Landscape (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). His later works, in which he abandoned panoramic views, fall into two categories: hilly landscapes and wooded landscapes. Two different moods can also be distinguished in these works: on the one hand are paintings that convey a sense of unrest and alienation and, on the other, works characterized by a more realistic approach to nature.

De Keuninck’s paintings of catastrophes, consisting mainly of representations of the Burning of Troy and the Fire of Sodom, were produced throughout his career and not solely during his early years, as was previously thought (Raczynski, Fechner). These account for a third of his overall production. De Keuninck’s work generally possesses some attractive qualities, although his constant repetition of certain compositions reveals his limitations. Individual features include the clearly delineated sunbeams that illuminate certain areas of his landscapes while leaving others in near obscurity.