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Jan Brueghel The Elder - A village street with travellers

Jan Brueghel The Elder

A village street with travellers

Oil on copper: 6.3(h) x 7.9(w) in / 15.9(h) x 20(w) cm
Signed and dated lower right: BRVEGHEL 1614

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1568 - Antwerp - 1625

Ref: BY 143


A village street with travellers


Signed and dated lower right: BRVEGHEL 1614

Oil on copper: 6 ¼ x 7 7/8 in / 15.9 x 20 cm

Frame size: 10 ¾ x 12 ¼ in / 27.3 x 31.1 cm





Private collection, France;

by inheritance in the 1980s to a private collection, Lyon



Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Pieter Breughel le Jeune-Jan Brueghel l’Ancien: Une Famille de Peintres Flamandes vers 1600, 1998, pp.174-6, no.53, illus. in colour

Cremona, Museo Civico Ala Ponzone, Pieter Breughel il Giovane-Jan Brueghel il Vecchio: Tradizione e Progresso: Una Famiglia di Pittori Fiamminghi tra Cinque e Seicento, 1998, no.48, illus. 



Klaus Ertz and Christa Nitze-Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere Die Gemälde, vol. I, Lingen 2008, pp.364-6, no.178, illus. in colour





The original of the painting to be authenticated


“Village street with people including travellers passing through”

Oil on copper

15.5 x 19.5 cm

Signed and dated at bottom right: BRVEGHEL 1614


is known by me. Having examined the picture closely I am certain that it is an original work by the Flemish master


Jan BRUEGHEL the Elder

(born 1568 in Antwerp, died 1625 in the same town)


The state of preservation of this painting is excellent. The picture's paints, which nowhere show any sign of thinning or wear, have been applied thickly and retain impasto brushmarks, giving a jewel-like, glowing impression. The successive translucent layers are in perfect condition. Without using ultraviolet light, I was unable to perceive any retouching or overpainting. The copper backing is as heavy and thick as on the day it was made in the early 17th century.


This report includes four photocopies of examples for comparison and a colour photograph of the painting to be authenticated, which may be described as follows:


The view is from that of someone in a slightly raised position looking at a village street. The entire foreground is occupied by a road which is quite wide to start with and then narrows as it runs towards the righthand-side back of the picture. In the left foreground there is a group of five cows herded by a woman with a raised stick. Behind them on the right there is a covered waggon drawn by three horses, seen from the back. In the centre foreground there are three pigs, and next to them an open waggon drawn by a pair of horses. The left-hand horse, a grey, stands with its head bent over the waggon shaft towards the ground. The right-hand horse is a bay with a white blaze on its forehead. A man is approaching from the right with an armful of hay for the horses. Near the bottom edge of the picture on the right there is a cockerel with two hens, behind them two children with a dog. Standing in front of the house on the right-hand edge is a woman in conversation with a man on horseback.


The village street veers slightly to the right and runs diagonally towards the background past cottages beside it. In the left centre there is a church, half concealed by houses and trees. Behind the group of cattle on the left there is a small pond, from which two horses are drinking, one being ridden by a man. Towards the back of the picture there are other men on horseback and a cart drawn by a single horse.


Above this village street there is a sky filled with a few clouds, with a clear patch of blue to the left of centre of the picture. In this sky two ducks and several other birds are flying.



About the artist:

Jan B R U E G H E L the Elder


is one of the most important Flemish painters around 1600, about whose life we know much from historical sources and letters written by himself.

He was born in 1568, the second son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder; after a trip to Italy between 1589/90 and 1596 he set up a painter's studio in Antwerp, and in 1597 he was admitted to membership of the Guild of St. Luke. After he married Isabella de Jode in 1599, she bore him a son, subsequently the artist Jan Brueghel the Younger, and in 1602 Jan the Elder became Dean of the Guild of St. Luke; around 1604 he travelled to Prague, and after the death of his first wife in 1603, he married Katharina von Marienburg in 1604.


In 1606 there is the first record of him working at the Brussels Court, and around 1613 he made a journey to the Netherlands with Peter Paul Rubens and Hendrik van Balen; he frequently worked with both of these friends, but also with Josse de Momper the Younger, Sebastiaen Vrancx, Hendrik van Steenwijck the Younger and others; he died of cholera on 13.1.1625.


The relationship to reality of this painting is in sharp contrast to the “world landscapes” of the 16th century. No longer does the viewer look down upon what is going on far below him, examples being the paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder or Herri met de Bles; in artistic terms he has moved down in space, becoming just like one of the village inhabitants. However, in his landscapes Jan Brueghel the Elder always maintains the distance between the viewer and what is depicted, being in a slightly raised viewing position, although this distancing is barely perceptible in the painting to be authenticated. This is the special feature of the landscapes created after 1610, which form part of the most progressive and prophetic compositions of the painter.


A uniform conception in terms of space and colour developed into arrangement in stages of individual parts as the preferred design at the beginning of the 17th century. The strict partition of colours into three shades – brown, green and blue - of the 16th century has been entirely replaced in this painting. The spatial sequence is only accentuated by areas of light and shadow.


In developing other compositions from the formulated ideas, with a wide variety of components giving rise to different new and original features, there are many versions of the “village landscape”, yet all of them are fundamentally similar and comparable. The quality of these landscapes is found particularly in the simplicity of the composition. Four of them have been selected as examples of the requirements needed to create the landscape as a painting.


The horizon is moved lower down, so that the street can be shown as winding away into the distance without impediment, and without one seeing the formal striving for diagonal progressive compositional ideas. The street is full of people and animals, lending an element of activity and enjoyment to the village idyll. However, the number of subjects is limited. This restriction is more than compensated for by a new quality of modesty and lack of demand, giving the impression that this is better suited to the simple and undemanding nature of the dwellings.


Even though Jan the Elder produced several variants of the “village street”, each of these pictures stands alone as an example of technical perfection, quite typical of Flemish painting at the beginning of the 17th century in Flanders. In each case the brushwork is delicate and faithful to detail, especially noticeable in the meticulous depiction of people and animals, or the foliage on trees.


Although the painting to be authenticated bears an authentic signature (having the “correct” size, form and arrangement of the letters “VE”) and date, in order to reinforce its provenance as a genuine painting by this painter I would refer to the close relationship it displays in terms of composition, artistic identity, brushwork and sense of space, as well as individuality:


1. “Landscape with village inn”

Munich, Alte Pinakothek, Inv. No. 826

Copper 32 x 44.5 cm

Suggested dating: 1609-14

Bibliography: Ertz 1979 Cat. No. 296, Illus. 282

Photocopy 1


2. “Village landscape with cattle market”

Elmira, Arnot Art Museum

Copper, 24.8 x 24.4 cm

Signed bottom left: BRVEGHEL 1613

Bibliography: Ertz 1979 Cat. No. 270, Illus. 277

Photocopy 2


3. “Flooded landscape”

Munich, Alte Pinakothek, Inv. No. 1896

Copper, 23.6 x 33 cm

Signed bottom left: ….GHEL  .6.4. (1614)

Bibliography: Ertz 1979 Cat. No. 279, Illus. 42

Photocopy 3


4. “Village landscape with self-portrait”

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Inv. No. 9102

Wood, 52 x 90.5 cm

Signed bottom right: BRVEGHEL, 1614

Bibliography: Ertz 1979, Cat. No. 278, Illus. 283

Photocopy 4


All the paintings mentioned, like the one to be authenticated, belong to the “village landscape” group. The viewer's eye moves over the entire picture without stopping. That which is horizontal takes precedence over the vertical, although vertical lines have a part to play in the house on the right-hand edge of the picture, at this time of the painter's life retaining their significance as a formal creative means of composing a two-dimensional picture.


I intend to include the painting to be authenticated


“Village street with people including travellers passing through”


in an Addendum planned for the future to the catalogue of paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder of 1979, describing it as a genuine work by Jan BRUEGHEL the Elder – signed and dated 1614 - when the Addendum is published with illustrations.


Lingen, 3rd September 1996


Dr Klaus Ertz


Translation of report by Dr Klaus Ertz, author of the catalogue raisonné of Jan Brueghel the Elder






Handwritten on the back of the photograph:


This photograph is an integral part of the report on the painting “Village street with people and passing travellers”, oil on copper, 15.5 x 19.5 cm, signed bottom right : BRVEGHEL 1614, by the Flemish master Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), painted in 1614 in Antwerp.


Lingen, 3rd September 1996

Klaus Ertz





1568 - Antwerp - 1625


Jan Brueghel the Elder was one of the most important Flemish artists of the first quarter of the seventeenth century, advancing the genres of landscape and flower painting. He was born in 1568 in Brussels, the second son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569), and trained with his grandmother, the miniature painter Mayken Verhulst Bessemers. From 1589/90-1596 he was in Italy, first in Naples and from 1592-5 in Rome, working for Cardinal Ascanio Colonna. There Jan became friends with Paul Bril (1554-1626), whose small-scale, naturalistic landscapes influenced him, and met his important, lifelong patron Federico Borromeo (1564-1631), Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, travelling to that city in 1595.


Brueghel was back in Flanders by October 1596 and set up a workshop in Antwerp. He was accepted into the Painters’ Guild of St Luke the following year and became its Dean in 1602. In 1599 he married Isabella de Jode (d.1603); their son, Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678), was to be trained as a painter by his father. After the death of Isabella, Brueghel married Catharina van Marienberghe in 1605; they had eight children. Peter Paul Rubens (1570-1640) made a very fine portrait of Brueghel, his second wife and two of their children (1612-13; Courtauld Institute of Art, London), emphasizing their status and prosperity.


Jan made visits to Prague in 1603 and Nuremberg in 1606. By 1608 he was Court Painter to the Archdukes Albert and Isabella, Habsburg Regents of the Netherlands. Around 1613 Brueghel travelled to the northern Netherlands on official business with his friends and collaborators Rubens and Hendrik van Balen (c.1575-1632). In 1615 the Antwerp Magistrates presented four of Jan’s paintings to Albert and Isabella. Three years later Brueghel coordinated twelve leading Antwerp painters, including Rubens, van Balen, Frans Snyders, Josse de Momper and Sebastiaen Vrancx, on an Allegory of the Five Senses project to be presented to the Archdukes. These works were destroyed by fire in 1713. Brueghel and three of his children died in an Antwerp cholera epidemic in 1625; his son Jan II returned from Italy to take over his flourishing workshop. His most important pupil was the flower painter and Jesuit priest Daniel Seghers (1590-1661).


Jan Brueghel the Elder was a prolific and highly influential artist, known in his day as ‘Velvet Brueghel’ for his delicacy of handling and ‘Paradise Brueghel’ for his many paintings on this subject. His early forest scenes were influenced by Gillis van Coninxloo III (1544-1607); he also produced Biblical paintings which adapt elements of his father’s work into his own miniaturist style. Crowded scenes of Hell were influenced by frescoes observed in Italy, for example Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and Luca Signorelli’s work in Orvieto. Jan painted panoramic landscapes, beginning with a high, detached viewpoint but moving in the first decade of the seventeenth century towards a more naturalistic and direct engagement with nature, informed by veils of atmosphere. Also in that decade, he pioneered flower painting that was independent of any Biblical or heroic context. Jan’s flowers are superbly observed over several months and then placed together in a convincing bouquet; in one of his letters to Cardinal Borromeo, he mentions travelling specially to Brussels to draw some particularly rare floral specimens from life. Brueghel also executed many views of village life; market days, travellers on the road and festivals are presented with a refinement that would appeal to the élite for whom he painted.


The work of Jan Brueghel the Elder is represented in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; the Prado, Madrid; the Alte Pinakothek, Munich; the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan; the National Gallery, London; the Hermitage, St Petersburg and the J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.