“Peasants and Proverbs: Pieter Brueghel the Younger as Moralist and Entrepreneur” – Edited by Robert Wenley, with Essays by Jamie L. Edwards, Ruth Bubb, and Christina Currie. Published to accompany the exhibition at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham in association with Paul Holberton Publishing.
This volume makes an excellent case regarding why Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s works became popular throughout Europe in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. While Bruegel the Elder’s painted works were primarily in the private collections of the Pope and noble families, his eldest son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, was producing copies of his father’s compositions for decades. These works were largely bought by middle and upper-class European families, cementing Bruegel/Brueghel’s legacy and furthering the family’s “brand.”
It is rare for a museum exhibition to conduct a deep-dive into a single Brueghel the Younger work, which makes this show (and monograph) especially welcome. The focus is on four works of the same subject, “Two Peasants binding Firewood.” Thought to possibly be a model of a lost painting by Bruegel the Elder, Pieter the Younger painted multiple copies of this work, with four included in this exhibit (three of which are thought to come from Brueghel the Younger and his workshop).
Mysteries surround “Two Peasants binding Firewood.” Why did this subject matter resonate with Europeans at the time? How many versions of the painting were created? How were the copies made? The essays in the monograph seek to answer these questions in fascinating detail.
The book begins with a chapter detailing the life of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Born in 1564, his famous father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, died when Pieter the Younger was a young child. Pieter the Younger moved to Antwerp and set up his own independent studio, specializing in reproductions of famous works by his father, as well as original compositions in the Elder Bruegel’s style. Brueghel the Younger was assisted by a rotating group of one or two formal apprentices that entered his workshop every few years. Brueghel the Younger and his assistants produced paintings at high volume throughout his career, with Pieter living a long life, dying in 1637/1638.
The next chapter is Jamie L. Edward’s engaging essay detailing the history of peasants in Bruegel the Elder and Brueghel the Younger’s works. Interestingly, the meaning of the painting at the center of the exhibit, “Two Peasants binding Firewood,” cannot be ascertained with certainty, but can be surmised based on the appearance of similar peasants in other Bruegel works. Of the two peasants prominent in the painting, the tall thin peasant, wearing a bandage around his head, has been identified as a reference to the proverb ‘he has a toothache at someone,’ meaning someone that deceives or is a malingerer. The second peasant, stout and dressed in red pants, represents a stock ‘type’ which can frequently be found in peasant wedding paintings of the time. One likely reading of the painting is that it depicts two peasants who have been caught in the act of stealing firewood.
The chapter by Christina Currie and Ruth Bubb focuses on an analysis of the two other extant rectangular versions of “Two Peasants binding Firewood,” (one from a Belgium private collection and the other at the National Gallery, Prague), comparing them to the version at the Barber Institute. A surprising finding of the dendrochronological analysis of the painting at the Barber Institute found that the tree used to fashion the board used in the painting was cut down between ~1449 and 1481. The authors identify the creator of the panel through a maker’s mark on the reverse of the painting. The panel maker was active from 1589 – c.1621, meaning that the panel was likely painted during this time frame. Interestingly, this means that the tree was stored for well over 100 years before being used by the panel-maker to create the board used by Brueghel the Younger.
Brueghel typically made his works by transferring images via a cartoon to the prepared panel through pouncing, which involved rubbing a small porous bag containing black pigment over holes pricked in an outline of the painting (called a cartoon) onto the prepared blank surface of the panel. The dots that remained were connected via black graphite pencil, and the pigment (dots) wiped away. The paint layer was then placed on top of the underdrawing.
The authors review each of the three rectangular versions, identifying two as autograph versions by Pieter the Younger and his studio. The authors make a compelling case for the version of the painting now in Prague being created outside of Pieter the Younger’s studio. This is due to several reasons, including the lack of underdrawing. The Prague version is also more thickly painted and has relatively crude color-blending in the faces. Some colors in the painting are also different, with light blue rather than pink used for the color of the jacket of the plump peasant.
The final section of the monograph contains the catalog of works in the exhibition. The detailed description and wonderfully-produced images allow the reader to analyze them individually as well as to compare and contrast them. For example, one version of the painting seems to show the thin peasant with his mouth open, showing his few remaining teeth.
Particularly interesting is the smaller, round version of the painting, said to have been painted by Brueghel the Younger later in his career, using free hand, and not a cartoon. This version depicts the two peasants with much smaller heads, in a loose, free-hand manner.
The description of the paintings and their differences is fascinating, with the reader coming away with a good understanding of how the paintings were created and who likely painted them. Readers of the monograph will learn the fascinating history of the Bruegel/Brueghel family along with a compelling explanation regarding how Brueghel the Younger continued and enhanced his family’s reputation in the first part of the 17th century.
The 450 anniversary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s death, in 2019, ushered in many exciting projects to commemorate the milestone. Perhaps none as rich and diverse as this conference and accompanying 550-page monograph, which included groundbreaking papers on all aspects of the Bruegel family.
I was fortunate to attend the conference and can happily replace my scribbled notes and crude drawings created when seated in the audience with this exquisite monograph. It is perhaps the most beautifully illustrated Bruegel monograph based on conference papers that I’ve ever seen. Many of the Bruegel paintings reproduced in the monograph were recently cleaned and restored, which the monograph fully captures with large, rich illustrations. Not only are the paintings themselves reproduced, but enlarged details of critical sections of the paintings are featured.
The monograph’s first section includes a series of articles on the newly restored Dulle Griet, done in preparation for the Bruegel exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna in 2018 -19, in conjunction with the Museum Mayer Vanden Bergh in Antwerp, where the painting hangs. The conference brought to light that Dulle Griet was likely transferred from cartoon tracings after Bruegel carefully worked out the picture on other media. The recent cleaning of the panel has uncovered that many of the painting’s pigments have faded or darkened. The cleaning exposed a vital missing feature of the painting, the date of execution of the work. A fascinating essay details a colored drawing of Dulle Griet, housed at the Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf. The drawing helps convey the painting’s original colors which have faded over the years. The analysis of the paper on which the drawing was rendered revealed a watermark from no earlier than 1578, confirming its status as a copy.
The second section of the monograph is devoted to a group of papers related to Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his practices. Groundbreaking scholarship considers Bruegel’s paintings on distemper on lined canvas (Tuchlein), a format which Bruegel was one of the last to utilize. Essays on The Adoration of the Magi (in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium), by Veronique Bucken, provide intriguing details about this format of painting.
Bruegel used a variety of methods to paint his monumental panel paintings. For example, compared to Dulle Griet, the Detroit Wedding Dance, was drawn free hand using an “extensive and vigorous drawing with numerous adjustments to the modeling and shading of the figures, but not the composition as a whole.” Another surprise is the finding that the Wedding Dance was altered from its initial composition size through the addition of a top border. This is discussed in an intriguing paper by Marie Postec and Pascale Fraiture that compares the Detroit version with a little studied copy after Bruegel the Elder in Antwerp.
The third section of the monograph is devoted to Jan Brueghel, son of Pieter the Elder. Several essays review the difference between Jan and his elder brother, Pieter the Younger, in terms of creating copies after their father’s works. Elizabeth Alice Honig’s “Copia, Copying and Painterly Eloquence,” describes Jan Brueghel the Elder and the notion of copia, as articulated for a Renaissance audience by Erasmus in his De Copia. In Uta Neidhardt’s paper, “The Master of the Dresden Landscape with the Continence of Scipio: A Journeyman in the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder?” identifies two different “hands” working in Jan Brueghel’s studio. The essay is important because so little is known about those painters that worked in proximity to Jan’s studio. The essay remarks on the difficulty in assigning works to specific studio hands. (An issue that was on display just last month, when Christie’s sold a work dated 1608 stamped in copper by “Pieter Brueghel III,” owning to what is undoubtedly a spurious signature.) Larry Silver’s essay “Sibling Rivalry: Jan Brueghel’s Rediscovered Early Crucifixion,” focuses on the difference between Jan the Elder and Pieter the Younger’s treatment of a lost composition of Pieter the Elder. As can be seen frequently in the brother’s work, Jan the Elder creatively re-invents works based on his father’s design, while Pieter the Younger copies his father’s works in a fairly precise manner.
Section four investigates Bruegel’s network and legacies. The question of who painted some of the works after Bruegel the Elder’s untimely death in 1569 and his sons first paintings decades later remains a key mystery yet to be solved. Intriguing essays related to Bruegel’s networks, contracts and connection to homes and studios in Antwerp help put pieces of the puzzle together. Lost works like The Heath allow us to ponder questions of authorship and the number and varieties of copies made (most likely) by non-Brueghels.
The Bruegel “craze” of the early years of the 1600’s and the aftermath of Bruegel’s death is also covered in this section, which details the many ramifications of the aftermath of Bruegel The Elder’s untimely death. The monograph is rife with intriguing aspects of Bruegel’s legacy, including “Peasant Passions: Pieter Bruegel and his Aftermath” (Ethan Matt Kavaler) and “In Search of the Bruegel’s Family Homes and Studios in Antwerp” (Petra Maclot).
The devotion of eight pages to the restored Dulle Griet in an addendum of the monograph speaks to the exquisite care taken to showcase the paintings of Bruegel and his family.
That the quality of the monograph, with all of its finely detailed images, matches the uniformly high quality of the papers within, is a testament to the care that went into creating this handsome volume. It is wonderful that the conference papers are presented in such rich surroundings.
The full table of contents of this stunning monograph is below:
The marvelous Pieter Bruegel the Elder exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (DIA), interrupted by the Coronavirus, focuses on Bruegel’s celebrated The Wedding Dance, bought in 1930 by then-museum director William Valentnier. The exhibition is the result of many years of research by the DIA team, which uncovered remarkable new information about the painting including:
What makes this exhibit particularly striking is the presentation of the painting in an enclosed glass case, allowing it to be viewed from the back and sides (see photos). This provides the viewer an ability to closely view the thin board on which this masterpiece was painted.
A marvelous companion Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Volume 92, number 1, 2019) was published as a companion to the exhibit. Congratulations to the DIA team, including Ellen Hanspach-Bernal, Christina Bisulca, Yao-Fen You, Katherine Campbell, Becca Goodman, Blair Baily and Aaron Steele for a truly fantastic exhibit! (The DIA is scheduled to reopen on June 30, 2020).
A new book puts forward the thesis that Dancing Peasants at a St. Sebastian’s Kermis, long attributed to a follower of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, was in fact painted by the Elder Bruegel. Maximiliaan P.J. Martens, on the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy at the University of Gent, makes this startling claim in Dancing Peasants at a St. Sebastian’s Kermis: A Rediscovered Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Silvana Editoriale, 2019).
Martens saw the painting in 2016 and recognized the hand of Pieter Bruegel the Elder under multiple layers of old retouching and over paint. Martens makes a compelling case that similar typology of figures, materials and objects in Dancing Peasants at a St. Sebastian’s Kermis are spread throughout Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s oeuvre. He also puts forward the notion that the painting’s style is very similar to the elder Bruegel’s work. Subsequent technical examination and careful cleaning revealed numerous features characteristic of the master’s style and technique, according to Martens
A scientific analysis was conducted on the materials, which, combined with the observation of how they were employed, led Martens to the conclusion that the works was by the hand of the elder Bruegel. The painting is made up of oak quarterly split boards with slanting that is typical of the type that Bruegel employed, which were butt joined with dowels. The panel was prepared with calcite mixed with animal glue and has and has an imprimatur consisting of a brownish ochre hue with lead white and particles of carbon black mixed in, again typical of the elder Bruegel.
Martens notes that the underdrawing is invisible to the naked eye, and even hard to distinguish through infrared reflectography. He concludes that as with a large number of other Bruegel paintings, it was likely traced from a 1:1 cartoon. The tracing was reinforced in a liquid material, likely to be identified as black carbonaceous ink. He notes that pigments that have been identified fits the palette from other paintings by Bruegel. Martens attributes the painting to late in the artist’s career, around 1567–1569.
Martens was not the first to attribute the painting to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The eminent art historian Max J. Friedländer similarly attributed to Bruegel the elder in the early 20th century.
One area of research not detailed in the monograph is a dendrocronological analysis of the boards used in the paintings. Sotheby’s included an analysis when the work was sold in 2016 and noted:
The latest ring present in the lower plank is sapwood and is datable to 1566. The last rings of the upper two planks are heartwood and are datable to 1562 and 1563. Adding the standard minimum eight years of expected sapwood growth to the last registered ring of heartwood in the upper two planks suggests a usage date of 1571 or after.
Of course, if this analysis is correct, the painting would have been executed after Bruegel the Elder’s death in 1569. We look forward to learning Martens’ dendrocronological analysis, which the author indicated is forthcoming.
The work appeared last at auction in 2016 at Sotheby’s London, selling for £156,250 after an estimate of £80,000 – £120,000. If the attribution to Bruegel the Elder holds, the work will be worth millions, making this one of the greatest returns on investment of an Old Master painting in recent years.
Tags: Brueghel, Bruegel the Elder, Brueghel the Younger, dendrocronology, Max J. Friedländer, Dancing Peasants at a St. Sebastian’s Kermis: A Rediscovered Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Silvana Editoriale
We were fortunate enough to obtain an exclusive preview of the upcoming event, “The Bruegel Success Story,” to be held 12-14 September 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (http://conf.kikirpa.be/bruegel2018/) This can’t-miss conference kicks off a number of activities celebrating the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who died 450 years ago. We corresponded with one of the conference organizers, Dr. Christina Currie, Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), who gave us this exciting preview of the conference:
1) What led to focusing on Bruegel and his family for this conference?
The year 2019 is the 450th anniversary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s death. In Belgium and in Vienna, this is being marked by a series of events that will celebrate his career and his influence on later generations. The Bruegel Success Story conference, organised by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) in collaboration with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium, will kick off this season of activities and will give a riveting context for all the subsequent Bruegel themed happenings.
2) What will attendees of the conference learn?
Attendees will be exposed to the very latest in Bruegel research through the eyes of experts from all around the world. Eminent keynote speakers Leen Huet (Belgium), Elizabeth Honig (USA) and Matt Kavaler (Canada) will introduce each of the three days. Over the course of the conference, presentations will cover the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder as well as that of his artistic progeny, including the astonishingly exact replicas of his paintings produced by his elder son Pieter Brueghel the Younger and the exquisite paintings of his younger son Jan Brueghel the Elder. Fascinating new findings on the creative process of Bruegel the Elder as well as that of his dynasty will be presented for the first time, thanks to new high resolution scientific imagery. But the conference does not neglect the essential meaning behind these beautiful works of art. Several speakers will concentrate specifically on the interpretation of Bruegel’s paintings and drawings, which can be quite subversive when seen in an historical context. Interesting new facts about the life, family and homes of the Bruegel family will also be revealed.
3) Who should attend this conference?
The Bruegel Success Story is intended for all art lovers with an interest in Flemish painting and particularly those attracted to Bruegelian themes such as peasant dances, landscapes, proverbs and maniacal scenes. Students of art history, art historians, restorers and collectors should not pass up this opportunity.
3) There are a number of papers focusing on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting “Dulle Griet.” Why is that painting receiving attention now?
The Dulle Griet, in the collection of the Mayer van den Bergh Museum in Antwerp, has just undergone the most thorough conservation treatment in its recent history. This has brought to light many original features that were previously hidden behind a murky brown varnish and overpaint. The restoration, carried out at the Royal Institute for Cultural Institute in Brussels, was accompanied by in-depth technical examination that resulted in fascinating discoveries about Bruegel the Elder’s creative process. The conference attendees will hear how this great artist conceived, developed and painted this bizarre macabre composition. Leen Huet, one of the keynote speakers and author of a sensational recent biography on Bruegel the Elder, will delve into the hidden meaning behind the Dulle Griet.
4) One of the biggest bombshells in recent years was the revelation in your book (“The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon”) that Bruegel the Elder’s two versions of “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” were not painted by Bruegel the Elder. Will there be similar surprises unveiled at the conference?
I can say that attributions will be debated during the conference. This is always the case when a group of experts on a particular artist or dynasty get together. And it can lead to sparks flying as opinions naturally diverge!
5) There has also been a good deal of investigation into Bruegel’s extended family lately. What will attendees learn about Bruegel’s family at the conference?
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings were so loved that his son and heir Pieter Brueghel the Younger made his entire career out of producing replicas for an insatiable art market in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Jan Brueghel, his younger brother, updated the family tradition, branching out into flower paintings, allegories and mythological themes. The next generation produced several renowned painters too, including Abraham Brueghel, who traded on the family name. The paintings of the Bruegel dynasty, as well as those of lesser-known artists working in the Bruegel tradition in the Low Countries and abroad, will feature amongst the exciting new material presented during the conference.
A blockbuster conference containing the latest research on the Bruegel / Brueghel family of painters is being held this fall in Brussels. Many of the leading Bruegel scholars are presenting new findings related to the Bruegel dynasty.
Discoveries related to the Bruegel clan – including patriarch Pieter the Elder, sons Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder and other members of the family – will be presented at the symposium. One of the highlights will be presentations related to Pieter Bruegel’s “Dulle Griet,” a painting in Antwerp which has recently undergone extensive investigation, research and cleaning.
The Bruegel / Brueghel clan continues to be top draws at museums and set records at auction (including toping high estimates at this week’s Old Master’s auctions in London).
Registration is open now for this impressive symposium.
More information and registration at http://conf.kikirpa.be/bruegel2018/.
Conference Venue: Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Place du Musée, B-1000 Brussels.
12 September 2018, WEDNESDAY
9:00 – 9:45 Registration at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
9:45 – 10:00 Welcome by Hilde De Clercq, director of the KIK-IRPA and Michel Draguet, director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
CHAIR Lieve Watteeuw
10:00 – 10:40 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Leen Huet, The Surprises of Dulle Griet
10:40 – 11:00 Larry Silver, Sibling Rivalry: Jan Brueghel’s Rediscovered Early Crucifixion
11:00 – 11:20 Véronique Bücken, The Adoration of the Kings in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium: Overview and new perspectives
11:20 – 11:30 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:30 – 12:00
CHAIR Dominique Allart
12:00 – 12:20 Yao-Fen You, Ellen Hanspach-Bernal, Christina Bisulca and Aaron Steele, The Afterlife of the Detroit Wedding Dance: Visual Reception, Alterations and Reinterpretation
12:20 – 12:40 Manfred Sellink, Marie Postec and Pascale Fraiture, Dancing with the bride – a little studied copy after Bruegel the Elder
12.40 – 13.00 Mirjam Neumeister and Eva Ortner, Examination of the Brueghel holdings in the Alte Pinakothek/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
13:00 – 13:10 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 13:10 – 14:30
CHAIR Elizabeth Honig
14:30 – 14:50 Amy Orrock, Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Oil Sketches of Animals and Birds: Form, Function and Additions to the Oeuvre
14:50 – 15:10 René Lommez Gomes, Regarding the Character of Each Animal. An essay on form and colour in non-European fauna painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder
15:10 – 15:30 Uta Neidhardt, The Master of the Dresden “Landscape with the Continence of Scipio” – a journeyman in the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder?
15:30 – 15:40 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 15:40 – 16:10
CHAIR Bart Fransen
16.10 – 17.10 Christina Currie, Steven Saverwyns, Livia Depuydt, Pascale Fraiture, Jean-Albert Glatigny and Alexia Coudray, Lifting the veil: The Dulle Griet rediscovered through conservation, scientific imagery and analysis
Christina Currie, Steven Saverwyns, Sonja Brink, Dominique Allart, The coloured drawing of the Dulle Griet in the Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf: new findings on its status and dating
Dominique Allart and Christina Currie, Bruegel’s painting technique reappraised through the Dulle Griet
17:10 – 17:20 Discussion
18.00 Opening reception in Brussels Town Hall (Gothic and Marriage rooms)
13 September 2018, THURSDAY
9:00 Doors open
CHAIR Ethan Matt Kavaler
9:30 – 10:10 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Elizabeth Honig, Copia: Jan Brueghel and the Rhetoric and Practice of Abundance
10:10 – 10:30 Yoko Mori, Is Bruegel’s Sleeping Peasant an Image of Caricature?
10:30 – 10:50 Jamie Edwards, Erasmus’s De Copia and Bruegel the Elder’s ‘inverted’ Carrying of the Cross (1564): An ‘abundant style’ in Rhetoric, Literature and Art?
10:50 – 11:00 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:00 – 11:30
CHAIR Leen Huet
11:30 – 11:50 Tine Meganck, Behind Bruegel: how “close viewing” may reveal original ownership
11:50 – 12:10 Annick Born, Behind the scenes in Pieter Bruegel’s success story: the network of the in-laws and their relatives
12:10 – 12:30 Petra Maclot, In Search of the Bruegel’s Homes and Workshops in Antwerp
12:30 – 12:40 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 12:40 – 14:40
CHAIR Christina Currie
14:40 – 15:00 Lieve Watteeuw, Marina Van Bos, Joris Van Grieken and Maarten Bassens, ‘View on the Street of Messina’, circle of Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawing techniques and materials examined
15:00 – 15:20 Maarten Bassens, “Diet wel aenmerct, die siet groot wondere”. Retracing Pieter Bruegel’s printing press(es) by means of a typographical inquiry
15:20 – 15:40 Edward Wouk, Pieter Bruegel’s Subversive Drawings
15:40 – 15:50 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 15:50 – 16:20
CHAIR Valentine Henderiks
16:20 – 16:40 Jürgen Muller, Pieter Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death” revisited
16:40 – 17:00 Jan Muylle, A lost painting of Pieter Bruegel, The Hoy
17:00 – 17:20 Hilde Cuvelier, Max J. Friedländer’s perception of Bruegel: Rereading the connoisseur with historical perspective
17:20 – 17:30 Discussion
14 September 2018, FRIDAY
9.00 Doors open
CHAIR Manfred Sellink
9:30 – 10:10 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Ethan Matt Kavaler, Peasant Bruegel and his Aftermath
10:10 – 10:30 Christina Currie and Dominique Allart, The creative process in the Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and creative solutions in two versions by his sons
10:30 – 10:50 Anne Haack Christensen, David Buti, Arie Pappot, Eva de la Fuente Pedersen and Jørgen Wadum, The father, the son, the followers: Six Brueg(h)els in Copenhagen examined
10:50 – 11:00 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:00 – 11:30
CHAIR Dominique Vanwijnsberghe
11:30 – 11:50 Lorne Campbell, Bruegel and Beuckelaer: contacts and contrasts
11:50 – 12:10 Patrick Le Chanu, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and France
12:10 – 12:30 Daan van Heesch, Hercules et simia: the Peculiar Afterlife of Bruegel in Sixteenth-Century Segovia
12:30 – 12:50 Francesco Ruvolo, The Painter and the Prince. Abraham Brueghel and Don Antonio Ruffo. Artistic and cultural relations in Messina from the seventeenth century. With unpublished documents
12:50 – 13:00 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 13:00 – 14:30
CHAIR Véronique Bücken
14.30 – 14.50 Lucinda Timmermans, Painted ‘teljoren’ by the Bruegel family
14:50 – 15:10 Pascale Fraiture and Ian Tyers, Dendrochronology and the Bruegel dynasty
15:10 – 15:30 Jørgen Wadum and Ingrid Moortgat, An enigmatic panel maker from Antwerp and his supply to the Brueghels
15:30 – 15:50 Ron Spronk, Elke Oberthaler, Sabine Pénot, and Manfred Sellink, with Alice Hoppe Harnoncourt, The Two Towers: Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel panels in Vienna and Rotterdam
15:50 – 16.00 Discussion
16:00 – 16:10 Closing Remarks: Christina Currie and Dominque Allart
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.)
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 Antwerp. 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 Antwerp, 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