Rubens’ and Brueghel’s paintings. Exhibition in The Hague

Rubens and Brueghel, The Garden of Eden

Recently, an exhibition on seventeenth century Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, and their co-operation, started in The Hague.

The exhibition is in the Mauritshuis, the main art museum of The Hague.

It was built in the seventeenth century by Johan Maurits van Nassau, the governor of Brazil, then for some time a Dutch colony.

In the seventeenth century, the nickname of the Mauritshuis was the Sugar House, as Governor van Nassau made lots of money from the sugar plantations in Brazil.

These plantations had been conquered by the Dutch from the Portuguese.

The new Dutch owners found out that in order to maximize sugar profits, they had to import extra slaves from Africa.

To make that possible, they conquered the important Portuguese slave export port Luanda in Angola.

That made the Dutch major players in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which they had not been until then.

In this way, war begot slavery, and slavery begot war.

Today, the Mauritshuis collection includes important works of art, by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and others.

Also by Antwerp painter Rubens (1577-1640).

Rubens, who brings us to the subject of the temporary Mauritshuis exhibition on his relationship with Jan Brueghel; an exhibition which also includes drawings and paintings normally present elsewhere in Europe and the United States (before it was in The Hague, it was in Los Angeles in the USA).

Rubens, who, like the Mauritshuis building, brings up not just artistic questions, being a masterly painter; but also questions of art’s and artists’ relationships to society and politics.

Questions both on Ruben’s own life, and on his work after his death.

Rubens was originally from a family of Protestant rebels against, and refugees from, Spanish Roman Catholic absolutist authority in the southern low countries (later to become Belgium).

However, he made his peace with church and princely authorities, and worked for them, both as an artist and a diplomat.

These varied sources of income made him far more well off than most other artists, though not a millionaire.

Millions of dollars for Rubens’ paintings, like with many works by others, would only be made after their creator’s death, by people who mostly never put a single drop of paint on any canvas.

Rubens was mentioned in an article in Dutch NRC daily as one of the artists in the top ten for the money for which their work was sold.

He was an exception in that top ten, most others having made far less money from their work while alive than Rubens.

In Antwerp, Rubens lived near his colleague Jan Brueghel (1568-1625).

Jan Brueghel was the son of famous Pieter Brueghel, nicknamed ‘Peasant Brueghel’ for his depictions of village life.

His own nickname was ‘Velvet Brueghel‘, because of his delicate and detailed way of painting.

There were more talented painters in the Brueghel dynasty, including Jan’s brother Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Pieter used to be nicknamed ‘Hell Brueghel’ for depictions of hell and damnation. However, that work is now reattributed to Jan.

Jan Brueghel’s detailed style of work differed much from Rubens’ broad strokes.

Nevertheless, they valued each other as artists and became friends.

They also worked together on some of their paintings: Rubens often doing the main figures, Brueghel the animals, other details, and landscapes surrounding them.

Probably they did that each in their own studio, with their own materials.

The studios being so close together meant the canvases could be easily transported to the other artist when it was his turn to add to the painting.

Recent X-ray research of the paintings shows that Rubens sometimes thought Brueghel had not left enough space for the main figures, and then painted over part of Brueghel’s earlier work.

Two of the most famous examples of joint work by Brueghel and Rubens are The Garden of Eden, and Mars disarmed by Venus.

Both also did joint work with other painters, some of which is also at the exhibition.

Together with an unknown painter, Brueghel depicted Forest landscape with nymphs, dogs, and quarry.

This painting has as its subject hunting, reserved for princes and nobles in early seventeenth century Belgium.

It depicts animals of all sizes killed by the hunters: from red deer to small birds like great tits and bullfinches.

In Flora and Zephyrus from 1617, a cassowary is shown.

In the Garden of Eden, Brueghel depicted many birds, including teal, hoopoe, and golden pheasant.

A team of experts at Madrid’s Prado National Art Museum has identified Pieter Bruegel the Elder as the painter of a 400-year-old, previously unnamed masterpiece. The painting, called “The Wine of St. Martin’s Day“, is tempera on linen, and dates between 1565 and 1568: here.

18 thoughts on “Rubens’ and Brueghel’s paintings. Exhibition in The Hague

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