Approximately 150 years ago, a Welsh owner of a large format Pieter Brueghel the Younger paining, “Peasant Wedding Dance in a Barn,” was apparently offended by several images in the painting and chopped the painting into several smaller paintings, removing the offending images from the cut section(s).
The 3 remaining sections of the painting, when superimposed on the large painting, can be seen above. What was cut from the painting are images of a dancing man’s codpiece, a man reaching under a woman’s skirt and other images that must have offended the Welsh owner’s sensibilities.
It is a shame that the Welsh owner took the drastic action of hacking the painting into sections to remove the offending images. Other versions of the work included judicious overpainting, which would have removed the offending images without necessitating cutting the panel into pieces.
One of the three fragments of the painting recently came to light through a New York auction. This fragment has wonderful colors and careful modeling of facial features. Judging by the attention to detail (such as the delicate rendering of the thread on the dancer’s shirt), this work seems to have been one of the best of the known 27 versions painted by Brueghel the Younger and his workshop. This painting is likely an autograph work by the hand of Brueghel the Younger (see image below).
The back of the panel has both the Antwerp panel maker’s mark in the shape of the Antwerp castle with two hands above and the clover mark of Michael Claessen, the dean of the Antwerp panel makers and a frequent panel maker to Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Both marks point to a specific date range for the painting. The Antwerp panel maker’s mark was used 1619-1638, and Claessen created panels between 1615-1637. Therefore, Brueghel the Younger must have executed this work after 1616 and before 1637.
Since Pieter Brueghel the Younger typically copied works of his father, it is natural to look for the original work painted by his father. Unfortunately, the original work no longer exists or has not yet been identified.
This blog is on a search for the other 2 fragments of this painting. If anyone knows the whereabouts of them, please contact the editor.
Several weeks ago I wrote about the catalog for the exhibit Bruegel Defining a Dynasty by Amy Orrock. Now, having seen the exhibit firsthand, I can confirm what I suspected after reading the catalog; that the exhibit, presented by outgoing museum director Jennifer Scott, is a marvelous exploration of the Bruegel family brought vividly to life.
Smartly, the exhibit begins with an overview of the Bruegel family tree, showing the relations of family members whose paintings will be viewed in the coming rooms.
A work from the genius at the top of the family tree, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, greets us as we enter the first room. The Adoration of the Kings, 1564, is Bruegel at his finest, a visual feast for the eyes along with not-subtle commentary that reflects how some on-lookers appeared to be more interested in the gifts brought for Christ than the child himself.
One of the exhibition’s aims was to show that Pieter the Elder’s two male children, Pieter the Younger and Jan the Elder, were not simply copyists, but added their own personalities to scenes that their father first painted. Comparing Jan the Elder’s version of The Adoration of the Kings, for example, is a wonderful example of how Jan adjusted and enhanced his father’s composition, by adding elements like a town in the background and details of the dilapidated stable where the scene is set.
The Bruegel exhibit also showcases works painted outside of the family, such as the version of Netherlandish Proverbs included here. This work is intriguing because it omits one fourth of the proverbs found in Bruegel the Elder’s painting. Further, it is much smaller than the copies made by Pieter the Younger and his studio, and does not contain the characteristic underdrawing found in Pieter the Younger’s works. Scientific analysis indicates that it was produced at approximately the same time as the works by Pieter the Younger’s studio in the early seventeenth century. However, this work contains aspects of the completed Bruegel the Elder painting that are not included in Pieter the Younger’s copies. This means that while Bruegel the Younger did not have access to his father’s completed painting, the painter of this work did have access. How non-family members could have accessed the painting is just one of the mysteries discussed in the exhibit.
Family members showed their expertise with other genres such as still lifes, which Jan the Elder and Jan the Younger were undisputed masters. Jan Brueghel the Elder’s grandson, Jan van Kessel, is represented in four small paintings that depict insects set against a light background. The pictures gleam through the copper substructure, with the insects painted in minute detail.
There are many mysteries still to be solved within the family, such as what was Pieter Bruegel III’s role in his father Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s workshop. Exhibits like this one allow us to revel in the depth and breadth of the family’s output, and consider the many mysteries still be examined.
(Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty at the Holburne Museum, Bath, England, February 11 – June 4, 2017 £10 Full Price | £9 concessions | £5 Art Fund, Full Time Student | FREE Entry to under 16s and All Museum Members)
Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty by Amy Orrock (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2017). Published to accompany the exhibition Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty (11 February – 4 June, 2017) at the Holburne Museum, Bath, UK.
Perhaps the best known dynasty in the history of painters, the Bruegel family flourished for nearly 150 years. This book, written in conjunction with an exhibit that showcases the depth and breadth of the Bruegel clan, provides a history of the family along with visually dazzling key works.
The centerpiece of the book is the section that details the attribution of The Wedding Dance in the Open Air to Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The “heavy dancers” depicted in the painting are some of the best known figures of Bruegel’s oeuvre. Yet this painting was originally thought to be a copy by a follower of Brueghel the Younger.
Key to the attribution was the cleaning of the painting. The pre- and post-conservation images portray a drastically different work. Before conservation the work looked like a nocturnal scene, covered in layers of discolored varnish and numerous retouching. The restoration, carried out by Elizabeth Holford, led to a greatly lightened, visually stunning painting.
Christina Currie and Dominique Allart, who wrote the definitive scientific examination of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s output several years ago, examined the work and secured its attributed to the artist. They studied the painting’s underdrawing, which conformed to paintings typical of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. They concluded that he work “… equals that found in the other versions studied, signifying that it belongs within” the Brueghel the Younger group.
Jan Brueghel the Elder’s grandson, Jan van Kessel, excelled in small paintings of “naturalia,” which mimicked insect and other types of animal specimen that were difficult or impossible to obtain. Highlighted in the book are four small paintings on copper panels that depict native insects against light backgrounds.
This highly recommended book not only provides a wonderful overview of the Bruegel family, but also made me want to immediately rush to the Holburne museum to see the paintings in person. (I will have to wait a few weeks until I am able to do this.)
Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life
By Joseph Leo Koerner
Princeton University Press, 2016
Koerner’s beautifully illustrated book focuses on the rise of secular European art after centuries’ of religious-themed works. He chronicles the growth of secular painting, which later became known as “genre painting,” or works which portray everyday European life. Koerner’s thesis is that the transition to secular painting had its roots in Bosch’s depictions of demons and phantasmagoric creatures, which were representations of human weakness and sin (referred to as “enemy painting”). Bruegel’s paintings, 50 years after Bosch, also contained “undesirable” images, but instead of fantastic creatures, Bruegel focused on human foolishness in his depictions of peasants dancing and other imprudent antics.
Koerner constructs a compelling argument for this thesis, which is greatly enhanced by the book’s abundant images from both Bosch and Bruegel’s paintings. Koerner demonstrates that surviving paintings by both artists show a commonality of subjects; demons, fools, and knaves (“gluttons, lazybones, drunkards, dupes, thieves, bullies, charlatans and quacks”). Lost paintings by Bosch also included subjects that are now closely associated with Bruegel, including “peasant dances and peasant weddings, a huge Battle between Carnival and Lent, a Tower of Babylon, a feast of Saint Martin and works on linen of beggars, merrymakers” and others. As Koerner notes, Bosch appears to have painted nearly all of the subjects now typically associated with European genre painting.
Not only was Bosch and Bruegel’s subject matter similar, but the gestalt of the paintings were also parallel. A bird’s-eye point of view is common to both artist’s compositions. In addition, Bosch and Bruegel filled their works with richly detailed, intricate figures. Their paintings overload our senses with characters and figures that seem to stretch far beyond the limits of the physical works. Further to the similarity of the two artist’s paintings, Koerner points out that until fairly recently, major works by Bruegel were attributed to Bosch, including “The Triumph of Death” in the Prado and “The Fall of The Rebel Angels” in Brussels.
Bosch and Bruegel’s painterly styles were similar too, in that both artists allowed the ground paint layer to penetrate the upper paint layer in certain sections, contributing to the final look of the pictures.
Koerner connects the two artists via their patrons as well. Both were sought out by the elite of their day, including high-ranking politicians and famous humanists. Bosch and Bruegel frequently signed their works, which was not typical of artists of this time period (with the exception of Jan van Eyck).
Koerner spends equal time discussing the artist’s differences as well, stating that “no one makes Bosch seem more historically remote than does Bruegel.” With Bosch, the enemy is the Devil and sin, while Bruegel demonstrated that “genuine evil flourishes in the activity of ordinary people.”
The second two-thirds of the book are comprised of detailed sections relating the life and artistic output of first Bosch, then Bruegel. Koerner reviews key works from both artists and how these works fit into the themes of the book. For Bosch, Koerner zeros in on The Garden of Earthly Delights, which to this day continues to baffle viewers trying to “crack the code” of this enigmatic work. In a later chapter Koerner focuses on Bruegel’s The Magpie on the Gallows, tying this work back to Bosch’s heaven and hell imagery, with peasants dancing beneath the gallows.
Koerner convincingly links Bosch and Bruegel together as the originators of “genre scenes” and brings a fresh perspective to both artist’s works, tying them to the larger context of subsequent European paintings. This book is an excellent addition to both Bosch and Bruegel scholarship, leaving the reader with an even greater admiration of these two towering artist’s talents.
An interesting Pieter Brueghel II painting came to our attention in late May of this year. Listed as “PIETER BRUEGHEL (attr. a)” in the June 1, 2016 auction catalog for the Genoa, Italy auction house Wannenes, this small 18 cm tondo work leapt from the catalog pages with its delicate brushwork and exacting execution. The work had an estimate of only €1,600 – €1,800, yet shimmered from the catalog pages.
Details such as the delicate red thread winding around the pants of one of the peasants was a clear sign that this work should not simply be attributed to Pieter Brueghel II, but was likely an original work by the artist. A quick review of Klaus Ertz’ catalog raisonne of Pieter Brueghel II showed that other similar works were painted by the artist and his workshop, but this clearly escaped the notice of the seller as well as Wannenes.
The day of the auction arrived, and when the lot (number 504) was put up for bid, prices quickly skyrocketed beyond the paltry estimate. Within a minute bidding was already over €30,000. The auction ended with the work selling for approximately €68,000 (€74,400 with buyer’s premium). We wondered how soon we would see the work at auction again, this time with a much larger price attached.
It didn’t take long for the work to reappear. Scarcely more than three months after the June 1 auction, the work has appeared again, to be sold by Dorotheum in Vienna on October 18, 2016. In a new frame and with a certificate of authenticity from world renowned Brueghel II expert Dr. Klaus Ertz, the work now carries an estimate for €180,000 – €220,000.
In the intervening moths the painting appears to have undergone cleaning, with some of the paint loss evident in the Wannenes version corrected and the overall work removed of centuries of grime (see comparison of images below).
Congratulations to the initial buyer who will likely be able to turn a tidy profit of €100,000 or more, depending on the final sale price. This is another classic example of how cleaning a painting, fitting it in a handsome new frame and, most importantly, authentication from Dr. Klaus Ertz can transform the value of a Bruegel II.
Version sold At Wannenes – June 2016
Version to be sold October 18, 2016 at Palais Dorotheum
One of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s greatest patrons was Niclaes Jongelinck, who owned 16 of his paintings. The paintings were hung at Niclaes Jongelinck’s villa, called ‘Hof Ter Beke’, which was then located outside of the city walls of Antwerp.
Sadly, Niclaes Jongelinck’s house is no longer standing. As I was preparing for a trip to Antwerp, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to locate where his house would have stood in present-day Brussels. I set about trying to locate his house in the hustle and bustle of modern-day Antwerp.
I enlisted the staff at Antwerp’s Urban Planning, Archaeology and Monuments Department in helping me pinpoint the exact location where his house would have stood. The Antwerp team indicated that it was very difficult to locate the exact position of the original building on a present day map as displayed on 17th century maps. The old maps do not have the necessary precision to use them in a computer geographical information system (GIS). However, as you will read, they did provide remarkable insight into the likely location of the house.
The Antwerp team reported that one author, Rutger Tijs, indicated that the house of Jongelinck is located between the Hof Ter Bekestraat, Sint-Laureisstraat, Haantjeslei and Pyckestraat. According to Van Weghe, in 1885 the then-opened Moonstraat ran across the estate, which the Antwerp team thinks is the last ‘Hof Ter Beke’. (The current site is industrial buildings.) The Antwerp team investigated the site in 2005, but did not find the remains of structures older than the early 20th century.
Others also investigated the likely location of Niclaes Jongelinck’s house. The Antwerp team reported that Plomteux, Prims and Vande Weghe stated that the site where the villa owned by Niclaes Jongelinck once stood can be located between the current streets Hof Ter Bekestraat, Broederminstraat, Lange Elzenstraat and Oudekerkstraat. The Antwerp team agrees with this conclusion and indicate that on the maps of 1617 and 1624 the Jonckelinck villa is clearly shown on the south side of the present day Markgravelei while the other possible location (cf. Rutger Tijs) is clearly indicated on the north side.
According to Vande Weghe, in 1872 a new street called the Jongelincxstraat was opened on the estate witch was then owned by the Van den Broeck family. Prior to their ownership, Madam Schul was the owner. Further, in 1873 a new street, the Coebergerstraat, was opened on the estate. According to the Antwerp team this portion was owned by Van Put and Wilmotte.
The Antwerp team says that it does not seem likely that any of the original buildings survived. According to the list with building permits held at the City Archives, the area was built up in a short period of time from 1872 onward. The largest part of these houses are one family residential buildings dating from 1872 forward.
Niclaes Jongelinck’s villa (indicated on maps in 1617 and 1624 but not on the map from 1698) or at least a building which it replaced is drawn on the 1802 and 1814 cadastral drawings. On the 1836 drawing it is not present. The Antwerp team assumes that it was demolished somewhere between 1814 and 1836. When the Antwerp team tried to project the 1814 drawing on a geographical information system present day map, it seems that the buildings location is under or in the neighborhood of the present day building Coebergerstraat 35-37. The team indicates that the precision of this location is as good as the precision of the 1814 map and the number of comparison points they found. Thus, they conclude that an error of a few meters, but not more, is possible.
The map that you can see below shows a portion of the 1814 map with the current map imprinted on it in red. The two above mentioned places are marked with a purple circle. (You can download the PDF by clicking on the “Villa with current map” link below.)
So, for those going to Brussels, we at Bruegelnow.com recommend a visit to Coebergerstraat 35-37!
Here is a current view of Coebergerstraat 35-37
Many thanks to Georges Troupin, technisch bestuursassistent, Stad Antwerpen, Stadsontwikkeling, archeologie, monumenten- en welstandszorg, for his substantial assistance solving this puzzle!
The following literature was quoted:
Greet Bedeer en Luc Janssens, Steden in beeld, Antwerpen, 1200-1800, Brussel 1993
Guido De Brabander, Na-kaarten over Antwerpen, Brugge 1988
G. Plomteux G. & R. Steyaert met medewerking van L. Wylleman, Inventaris van het cultuurbezit in België, Architectuur, Stad Antwerpen, Bouwen door de eeuwen heen in Vlaanderen 3NC, 1989 Brussel – Turnhout.
Floris Prims, De littekens van Antwerpen, Antwerpen 1930
Floris Prims en H. Fierckx, Atlas der Antwerpsche Stadsbuitenijen van 1698, Anterpen 1933
Rutger Tijs, de twaalfmaandencyclus over het leven van Pieter Bruegel als interieurdecoratie voor het huis van plaisantie ‘ter Beken’ te Antwerpen. in J. Veeckman (red.) Berichten en Rapporten over het Antwerps Bodemonderzoek en Monumentenzorg 3, Antwerpen 1999, p. 117-133.
Roberd Vande Weghe, Geschiedenis van de Antwerpse straatnamen. Antwerpen 1977.
Cartographic sources are below:
Marchionatus Sacri Romani Imperii, in P.Keerius, La Germanie Inférieure.1617 Library UFSIA
Marchionatus Sacri Romani Imperii, Claes Janszoon Visscher 1624 City Archive
Dubray, Plan du territoire de la ville d’Anvers divisé en 5 sections, levé géométriquement par Dubray arpenteur géographe du Depart[ement] des 2 Nethes en l’an X 1802, City Archive 12#3944
Dubray en J. Witdoeck, Plan de la cinquième section IIIeme partie lévé géométriquement par Dubray arpenteur géographe du Departement des Deux Nethes en l’an X”; “Renvoi indicatif du supplement des parties qui ont été fait au plan d’après l’Atlas [met legende] fait par moi géomètre soussigné, le supplement à ce plan […] et conformement à l’Atlas du 15 Mars 1812. Anvers, le 21 Decembre 1814, F.D. Witdoeck. 1814 City Archive 12#4270
C.J. Van Lyre, Atlas der Antwerpsche Stadsbuitenijen. 1698. Cf. literature Prims
J. Witdoeck, 5e wijk genaamd extra muros der stad Antwerpen. 1836, City Archive 12#3077
Alouïs Scheepers, Plan géométrique parcellaire et de nivellement de la ville d’Anvers et des communes limitrophes dressé et gravé à l’échelle de 1 à 5000 par Alouis Scheepers conducteur des travaux communaux au service de Monsieur Th. Van Bever, ingénieur de la ville, publié sous les auspices de l’administration communale. 1868. 1868, City Archive 12#8824
Alouïs Scheepers, Plan geometrique parcellaire et de nivellement de la ville d’Anvers et des communes limitrophes dressé et gravé par Aloïs Scheepers, conducteur de travaux communaux au service de monsieur G. Royers, ingénieur de la ville publié sous les auspices de l’administration communale. Edition de 1886. 1886, City Archive 12#12541
Over the past few months we have had an opportunity to study an interesting “Children’s Games” variant.
We have studied the infrared reflectography image taken, as well as an X-ray image and several images created with various light and dark shading.
Let’s review the images and discus what they reveal about the painting:
First, this image (below) clearly indicates that the painting is quite dirty through age and discoloration of varnish.
This image (below) with light raking from the right side make clear the few small places on the painting which have been cleaned, so the bright colors of the original panel come through, such as in the upper right corner where the sky has been cleaned and the middle left, where the young girl has been cleaned.
An ultraviolet light image (below) shows clearly some of the damage to the painting that has occurred over the decades. The most pronounced damage is along edge where the first and second panels were joined together. There also is damage in the middle of the painting with a few scratches.
One of the mysteries that we are trying to solve with this analysis is to determine when the painting was created. The image below of raking light on the back of the painting clearly shows that the 3 boards which comprise the painting were created with saw-type tools, and don’t appear to be created by a machine.
A recently published monograph “Frames and supports in 15th- and 16th-century southern netherlandish painting” by Hélène Verougstraete has been instructive in our analysis of the marks on the back of the panel. This has been instructive relative to how the panel was created. While none of the images in the monograph are an exact match, some, such as the figure a (page 33) appear to be somewhat close.
However, we aren’t able to date the panel with certainty based on this information.
The image below clearly shows the repair that panel has undergone, most noticeably the increased support that the panel has had to repair and support the joining of the first two panels, where the damage in the other panels can readily be seen.
We are continuing to examine this panel and look forward to sharing our findings here!
Recently we’ve been given the opportunity to examine first hand a very interesting copy of Bruegel’s Children’s Games. The painting is large – 28″ X 39″, seemingly painted on a single panel (or two panels), potentially painted on larch (birch).
Below is the original version from 1560
Below is the copy from ?
What makes this copy so interesting is how it diverges from Bruegel’s original. There are many Children’s games that are missing from the copy, as seen in the illustrations below.
Figures that appear in both versions are in yellow. Those not highlighted are missing from the curious copy:
This blog will document the research done on this painting to ascertain when it was painted, and potentially who painted it.
We love a detective hunt!
It comes to no surprise to any collector that a firm attribution to an painter positively impacts a painting’s value. But what does this mean in the world of Bruegel / Brueghel? The recent attribution of “Wine on St. Martin’s Day” to Bruegel the Elder from a previous attribution of Brueghel the Younger catipulted this painting’s value to 25M Euros if sold on the open market (1). An upcoming auction for Brueghel the Younger’s “The Wedding Dance” at Palais Dorotheum on October 21, 2014 will test the value of attribution for his son, in one of Bruegel / Brueghel’s most popular painting motifs.
In February of last year at rather rough looking painting of “The Wedding Dance” was put up for auction at Bill Hood and Sons in Florida in the USA.
This work, “attributed to Brueghel the Younger” was estimated at $10,000, but on the day of the auction soared above the estimate to land at a sale price of $21,000.
In the time since the auction, the painting was carefully restored, and the owner (or Palais Dorotheum, the seller) worked with the preminant scholar in the area of Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz, to determine whether the work was an autograph Brueghel the Younger.
The Dorotheum website explains the attribution, “The present painting was analysed using X-ray technology and infrared reflectology. The analysis found that the pigment matched that usually used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Furthermore, the manner of working is that of Pieter Brueghel; the wooden panel was prepared using a white chalk base and the imprimatura was applied on the diagonal using a wide brush, as is the case with most of Brueghel’s paintings. The entire composition was meticulously sketched on to the prepared panel. In the underdrawing there are multiple pentimenti.” (The phrase “meticulously sketched” is interesting, since Christina Currie and Dominique Allart in “The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon” show that Brueghel the Younger and his workshop typically used pouncing to transfer images from the preparatory cartoon to the surface of the paining. Hopefully Currie and Allart can examine this painting to tell us more about how the image was tranferred, since it is only one of two examples of this scene in round (“tondi”) form.)
The Dorotheum description concludes by stating, “The present painting is of an exceedingly high quality and should be considered among Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s masterpieces.”
In other words, the attribution raises the price from $21,000 to up to $378,000 (the high end of the sales estimate, which I think this painting will achieve.)
Below is an image of the restored patining on sale at the auction.
A wonderful new exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum from September 20 to November 8 2014 explores Bruegel the Elder via art created by Laurence Smith.
From the introduction:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569) was a Flemish artist who illustrated
people’s everyday lives and the worlds they inhabited. His work is often seen
as being one of the earliest forms of social satire in art history.
In the drawing Nobody and Somebody (1558) the character of Nobody
is shown staring at himself in a mirror, below Bruegel has written the line
“Nobody looks at himself”. Bruegel loved to turn proverbs into pictures and in
doing so held his own mirror up to what he saw as the foolishness of society.
Bruegel was predominantly known for his large, colourful oil paintings of, what
were known as, ‘peasant scenes’. These were commissioned by wealthy
patrons and rarely seen in public. However, many of his drawings were made
into engravings allowing them to be reproduced and seen by a far wider
Laurence Smith has made a study of Bruegel’s little known graphic works and
turned some of these drawings and engravings into oil paintings whilst trying
to mirror the colour and energy of Bruegel’s paintings. Enlarged and vividly
coloured Bruegel’s highly detailed graphic images can now be seen like never
Pieter Bruegel the Elder wanted to hold up a theatrical mirror in order for us to
see our own selves, with all our virtues and vices, reflected back at us.