• NameJan Bruegel d.ä.
  • Sexmale
  • Variant namesstavningsvariant: Jan Brueghel the older
  • Nationality/DatesFlemish, born 1568, dead 1625
BiographyBorn at Brussels into an important family of
artists, Jan Brueghel I was the second son of the peasant
painter Pieter Bruegel I. According to Van Mander
(1604), Jan received his early training in watercolour
painting from his maternal grandmother, the
miniaturist Mayken Verhulst, while the Antwerp
landscapist Pieter Goetkindt taught him to paint in
oils. Van Mander also records Jan’s subsequent stay in
Cologne, after which he travelled to Italy: he was
recorded at Naples in June 1590 and was active in
Rome from about 1592 to 1594. During this period,
he found a protector in Cardinal Ascanio Colonna,
who also employed Rubens’ brother Philip. In Rome
he undoubtedly met the Flemish landscapist Paul
Bril, with whom he collaborated, and the two artists
had an important reciprocal influence on one another.
He also met Cardinal Federico Borromeo, who
became his patron and lifelong friend; their correspondence
(see Denucé 1934) offers important
insights into Brueghel’s art. As Archbishop of Milan,
Borromeo offered Brueghel a place in his household
in 1595. The artist returned to Antwerp by October
1596, the following year he became a master in the
Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, and in 1599 he joined the
guild of Romanists. On January 23 of that year he
married Isabella de Jode, daughter of the engraver
Gerard de Jode, and on September 13, 1601, their
first son, Jan Brueghel II, was born. Jan I received his
Antwerp citizenship in the same year and became
sub-deacon of the painters’ guild, of which he eventually
served as dean in 1602. In 1604 Jan purchased a
house called “De Meerminne” (The Mermaid) in the
Lange Nieuwstraat in Antwerp, travelled to Prague,
and returned to Antwerp by the end of the same year.
In 1606, the year following his marriage to Catharina
van Marienberghe, he travelled to Nuremberg, and
two years later, in 1608, he is mentioned in Brussels
as a (non-resident) court painter to the Archdukes
Albert and Isabella, the Habsburg regents of the
Netherlands, a function he kept until his death. Jan
also enjoyed a very prosperous career in Antwerp,
receiving commissions from important patrons like
the Emperor Rudolph II and King Sigismund III of
Poland. Around 1613 he travelled to the Northern
Netherlands on official business in the company of
Rubens and Hendrick van Balen. In 1615, the
Antwerp magistrates presented four of his paintings
to the Archdukes Albert and Isabella. Three years
later, in 1618, the city magistrates commissioned the
12 major painters of Antwerp to produce a represen-
tative sample of their art for the Archdukes: Peter
Paul Rubens, Frans Snyders, Josse de Momper II,
Hendrick van Balen, Frans Francken II and Sebastiaen
Vrancx, all collaborated on a single project, the
Allegory of the Five Senses, under Brueghel’s direction.
In 1619 Jan purchased a house called “Den Bock”
(The Billygoat) in the Arembergstraat in Antwerp.
Brueghel died on January 25, 1625, the victim of a
cholera epidemic that also killed three of his children.
Called “Velvet-”, “Flowers-” and “Paradise-
Brueghel”, Jan’s reputation was earned as a painter of
wonderfully detailed and exquisitely executed cabinet
pictures. He specialized in small landscapes with figures
and flower paintings. His only documented pupil
was Daniel Seghers. Among his frequent collaborators
were Peter Paul Rubens, Joos de Momper II, Hendrick
de Clerck, Hendrick van Balen and Sebastiaen
Vrancx. Jan did, however, have many imitators including
his son Jan II, who as a young man took over his
father’s studio after the latter’s unexpected death in
1625. More than 3000 paintings were formerly
ascribed to Jan I, but no more than c. 450 can be correctly
attributed to the artist. Jan often executed replicas
and variant versions of his own works, probably
while he still had access to the originals in the studio.
As a result of the enormous popularity of, especially,
his cabinet-size landscapes, a large number of copies
of his compositions were also produced for the
Antwerp art trade in the 17th- and early 18th-century.