• NameJan van Kessel d.ä.
  • Sexmale
  • Nationality/DatesFlemish, born 1626, dead 1679
BiographyStill life and animal painter. The son of the
Antwerp portrait painter Hieronymus van Kessel II, a
collaborator of Jan Brueghel I, whose daughter,
Paschasia, he married. Jan I was a pupil of his father
and later, most likely, of his uncle, Jan Breughel II.
He enrolled as a master in the Antwerp painters’
Guild of St. Luke in c. 1644/1645 and was described
in the guild records as a “flower painter” (“bloemschilder”).
At his marriage in 1647 to Maria van
Apshoven, one of the witnesses was his uncle David
Teniers II, who had married Jan I Brueghel’s daughter
Anna ten years earlier. In 1646 his uncle, Jan
Brueghel II, sold two copies of his own small flower
garlands commissioned from Van Kessel. Two of his
sons, Ferdinand I, who inherited his father’s workshop
in 1679, and Jan II, became painters. After a
successful career, Van Kessel nevertheless died at
Antwerp in relative poverty. His identity has often
been mistaken in the past for that of his namesake, a
little known painter of fruit- and game still lifes, who
was admitted to the Antwerp Guild in the same year
Van Kessel was a highly versatile and prolific
painter whose subjects included animals (mostly
birds, fish and insects), still lifes of fruits, vegetables,
game, or decorative objects, flower pieces and garlands,
frequently produced in collaboration with
other artists, and picture-gallery interiors. He also
designed cartoons for floral borders of tapestries.
Dated works range from 1648 to 1676 and are predominantly
small-scale works on copper or wood
panel, brilliantly coloured and executed with miniature-
like detail. Van Kessel’s many detailed sketches
of insects and plants exhibit an almost scientific precision
reminiscent of similar studies by Joris Hoefnagel.
Beside these little studies, for which he is best known
today, from about 1652 onwards, Van Kessel also
painted cabinet pieces with live animals in landscapes,
mostly in large series and usually as composite paintings
grouped around a larger centerpiece and framed.
These paintings, which included allegorical representations
of the “Five Senses”, the “Four Elements”, or
the “Four Parts of the World”, are strongly indebted
to Jan Brueghel I, although Van Kessel often shows
himself to be an innovator of the genre. Daniel
Seghers has been pointed out as a major influence on
his floral festoons and garlands. During the course of
his career, notably towards the 1670s, his handling
became more painterly and less refined.