Jan Brueghel The Younger

Juno in the Underworld

Oil on copper: 8.3(h) x 10.6(w) in /

21(h) x 27(w) cm

Signed lower right: I B.

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BM 181



1601 – Antwerp – 1678


Juno in the Underworld


Signed lower right: I B.

Oil on copper: 8 ¼ x 10 ⅝ in / 21 x 27 cm

Frame size: 14 ⅛ x 16 ⅜ in / 35.9 x 41.6 cm 


Painted in the late 1620s



Anonymous sale, M. Etienne Libert, Paris, 10th June 1976, lot 19;

where acquired by a private collector, France;

by descent


Dr Klaus Ertz has confirmed that this is an autograph painting by Jan Brueghel the Younger[1]



The viewer sees a scene of Hell with ‘Juno in the Underworld’, viewed from a slightly raised aspect. On the left the goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter, enters the Underworld in a golden carriage drawn by two peacocks, the one on the right touching the wheel with its brightly-coloured feathers.  Juno’s outstretched right arm points to the left at three Furies, ‘Daughters of the Night’, who, with snakes entwined in their hair, are as threatening as the numerous naked bodies in the right foreground, entrapped by devils and nightmarish animals. The three spectral women, partially wrapped in red robes, stand, kneel and sit beneath a tent-like red canopy draped over poles.  There are snakes, frogs and a salamander on the ground in front of them. Devils in the right foreground use their tridents to drive the damned into the fires of Hell.


At the left and right-hand edges of the central band of the picture the glow of fires is seen behind overhanging rock walls, lighting up the night sky, while grotesque devils fly through the air. On the left-hand rocky pinnacles there are gallows and torture wheels, while, on the right, human beings are hurled from high rocks into the abyss.  In the valley in the central middle ground, a group of fashionably-dressed people is being led into the distance by a devil.  Down this valley countless numbers of ‘Doubters and Unbelievers’ can be seen with their tormentors.  In the centre background an eerie light illumines the ruins of human civilization.


Jan Brueghel the Younger’s subject is taken from the fourth book of Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-17 AD), which deals with the often fraught relationships between the gods and men. The goddess Juno is furious because Bacchus, her philandering husband Jupiter’s son by the mortal princess Semele, has become a powerful and popular god. She takes revenge on Semele’s sister Ino, daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, who is married to Athamas. Juno descends into the Underworld to ask the Fury Tisiphone to drive Athamas mad. Athamas comes to believe that his wife is a lioness and his children are her cubs. He kills his baby son Learchus and Ino, in terror, leaps off a cliff with their daughter Melicerta. Venus intervenes and asks Neptune to make Ino and Melicerta immortal: they are transformed into sea goddesses.


Following the death of his father Jan Brueghel the Elder in 1625 and the takeover of his studio, Jan Brueghel the Younger initially continued to work in his father’s distinctive style.  From the aspect of craftsmanship, the paintings from his early period are scarcely distinguishable from those of his father.  It was only later, about the mid-1630s, that Jan the Younger developed his own painting style, based more upon that of painters like David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) or Daniel Seghers (1590-1661). This is not yet evident in the present painting.


Previous research concerning Jan Brueghel the Younger as a painter has always demonstrated how closely his work resembled that of his father. Today it can be said that Jan the Younger continued his father’s work in its most intensive and certainly its highest level.


Although in many respects Jan the Younger preserved his father’s inheritance, in Juno in the Underworld it is very clear that Jan really understood how to incorporate the older material in his work, converting it in a technically perfect manner using new painting concepts, clothing old ideas in new forms and linking them using his own stylistic means, thereby creating something that was not a mere copy.


From the outset, historical subjects and ‘Night and Hell landscapes’ play a major role in Jan Brueghel the Younger’s work. Again and again he uses examples of his father Jan Brueghel the Elder’s work, copying and altering them.  We find in the father’s early work several variants of this particular form of landscape, which were adopted and continued by the son, and not by him alone.  Both father and son’s imagery of Hell is influenced by sixteenth century Italian art, in this case Tintoretto’s painting cycle Slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem, from which Jan the Elder adopted some exact details of hellish figures. This was very important for Jan the Younger and other contemporary artists (see the reference to Neidhart in Klaus Ertz, Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568-1625), Lingen 2008-10, vol. II, catalogue no.371).


The model for Jan Brueghel the Younger’s Juno in the Underworld is his father’s painting in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden:


Jan Brueghel the Elder

Juno in the Underworld”

Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv. no.877

Oil on copper, 10 x 14 in / 25.5 x 35.5 cm

Signed and dated bottom left: BRVEGHEL 159[8?].

Bibliography: Ertz 2008-10, op. cit., vol. II, no.371; colour pl. p.753


During the sixteenth and at the beginning of the seventeenth century artists, in particular those in the southern Netherlands, began to paint scenes from Hell, or the Classical Underworld, with views of burning towns and stormy landscapes, influenced by Italian painters. They depicted Biblical and mythological scenes such as the Temptation of St Anthony, the burning of Troy, Lot fleeing from the ruins of Sodom or, as in this case, scenes from the Underworld with Juno or Orpheus.


Before Jan Brueghel the Elder, hellfire landscapes were painted by Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and Herri met de Bles (1510-1550), and they can be found in the work of his older contemporaries, such as Kerstaien de Keuninck (1560 -1632) and Pieter Schoubroeck (1570 -1607). Therefore it is not surprising to find that their successors – in particular Jan Brueghel the Younger – adapted such images of Hell.


Juno in the Underworld has close stylistic comparisons to a number of other works by Jan Brueghel the Younger:


1.  Temptation of St. Anthony

Karlsruhe, State Art Gallery, Inv. No. 808

Oil on panel, 21 ½ x 32 ¾ in / 54.4 x 83.5 cm

Datable: End of the 1620s

Bibliography: Klaus Ertz, Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678): the Paintings with Oeuvre Catalogue, Freren 1984, Cat. 126 with illustration



2.  Christ in Limbo

Aschaffenburg, State Gallery in Johannisburg Castle, Inv. No. 6408

Copper, 8 ½ x 11 in / 21.6 x 27.9 cm

Datable: End of the 1620s

Bibliography: Ertz 1984, Cat.129 with illustration



3. Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld

Brussels, Royal Fine Arts Museum, Inv. No. 6249

Copper, 10 ½ x 14 in / 26.7 x 35.9 cm

Datable: End of the 1630s

Bibliography: Ertz 1984, Cat. 130 with illustration



Most of Jan Brueghel the Younger’s paintings based upon the work of his father were produced in the late 1620s and early 1630s.  They are among the finest of all of his work. Klaus Ertz dates this outstanding Juno in the Underworld to the late 1620s.



Information based on a report by Dr Klaus Ertz.



1601 – Antwerp – 1678



Jan Brueghel the Younger was the eldest son of the celebrated flower and landscape painter Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) and grandson of Pieter Breugel the Elder (c.1525/30-1569). He was baptized in Antwerp on 13th September 1601.


Jan trained in his father’s workshop. As early as 1616 Jan the Elder had planned a visit to Italy for Jan II, who had just had his fifteenth birthday, as we know from letters to Ercole Bianchi in Milan, but Jan was only able to commence this visit in May 1622. However, his father would not have felt that the fifteen year old lad could undertake the visit if he had not reached the level of training required.  This is something that is of considerable significance for the dating of paintings by Jan Brueghel the Younger.  At the beginning of 1625, Jan the Younger learned in Palermo of the death of his father in an Antwerp cholera epidemic. He returned home by the speediest route to take over his father’s workshop.  On August 12th 1625 he became a member of the St Luke’s Guild of Painters in Antwerp; in 1626 he married the daughter of the renowned painter Abraham Janssens (1567- 1632). In 1630 Jan became Dean of the prestigious ‘De Violiere’ rhetoric society.  About the same time he became Dean of the St Luke’s Guild. After a life full of both successes and failures, Jan Brueghel the Younger died on 1st September 1678.



Dr Klaus Ertz

[1]      Dr Ertz was unaware of Juno in the Underworld when he wrote Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678): the Paintings with Oeuvre Catalogue (Freren 1984). He has since examined the painting in the original and has confirmed that it is an autograph work by Jan Brueghel the Younger and an important addition to his oeuvre. See Report by Dr Klaus Ertz.

Old MasterJan Brueghel The Younger