From the museum press release, 30 January 2013
Jan Brueghel the Elder is considered one of the most important Flemish painters of the early 17th century along with Peter Paul Rubens. Unlike his brother Pieter, who orientated himself closely on the works of his famous father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jan developed his own individual style at an early stage that, with small-format landscapes, true-to-life floral paintings and allegories rich in detail, was to play a ground-breaking role in Flemish Baroque painting.
The holdings in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, which document the many facets of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s work, are unparallelled anywhere in the world. These comprise not just 49 paintings painted by the aritst himself, but also several major works including Harbour Scene with Christ Preaching, View of a Seaport with the Continence of Scipio and Large Fish Market. Some paintings were created in cooperation with other painters such as Virgin in a Flower Garland, which Jan Brueghel worked on with his artist friend Peter Paul Rubens, and the magnificent Seasons cycle that he created together with Hendrik van Balen. On top of this, the exhibition showcases the painterly output of a whole artist family, as the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen also own works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Younger, including the famous Four Continents series – one of the highlights in the Alte Pinakothek – by Jan van Kessel, Jan Brueghel the Elder’s grandson.
In the exhibition, the holdings in Munich will be complemented by the loan of exceptional works from international museums. The Vision of St. Hubert is being lent by the Prado in Madrid which, together with Flora and Zephyr
from Schloss Mosigkau (Kulturstiftung DessauWörlitz), is another prominent example of the cooperation between Jan Brueghel and Rubens. The loan from the Szépművészeti Múzeum in Budapest is one of the fascinating Hell scenes; the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is represented by a Calvary painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Other highlights include exquisite drawings by Jan Brueghel the Elder, with informal yet accurate studies of birds (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick), a harbour scene (The British Museum, London), as well as works of great artistic precision like Harbour with Fish Market from a private collection in Germany. Mountainous Landscape with a Seaport (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and Scipio’s Tomb from the Louvre in Paris document Brueghel’s time in Italy. This selection is supplemented by prints from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München and the Albertina in Vienna, as well as from other major lenders.
All works in the holdings in Munich have been closely analysed over the past few months in cooperation with the conservators at the Doerner Institut. X-ray photographs and infrared reflectography have revealed underdrawings and pentimenti. Examination under the stereo microscope has provided information on the painting process and the artists’ characteristic brushwork that has enabled attributions to be re-evaluated at the same time.
The exhibition documents the results of these examinations. This also includes an interesting insight into how workshops operated. Jan Brueghel created his pictorial compositions in an informal, almost modern painterly style by outlining his motifs with just a few simple lines and accentuating brushwork. This facilitated the efficient production of pictorial compositions rich in detail which invite the viewer on a journey of discovery.
With its presentation of works by Jan Brueghel the Elder, seen within the context of the artistic output of his family and his contemporaries, the Munich exhibition does not just provide an overview of his multifaceted and detailed pictorial compositions, but also a fascinating insight into the production of artworks in Antwerp around 1600.