The eldest son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, he settles early in Antwerp where he is trained in the studio of the landscape artist Gillis van Coninxloo. He receives the distinction of Master in 1585. He is only five years old when his father dies in 1569, unable to initiate his son to the art of painting. His mother, who is also a painter and the daughter of the artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst, dies when he is only a teenager. Yet she appears to have played a role in his apprenticeship. In 1588, he marries Elisabeth Goddelet with whom he has seven children.
He is nicknamed Hell Brueghel, even though fantastic depictions of fire and grotesque imagery are rare in his work. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s career has two different phases. Initially, he takes up a number of his father’s compositions and elaborates several versions. He adds his personal touch by introducing variations, including the importance he gives to landscape, as well as his own palette of colors, more vivid than his father’s and with a high degree of purity.
The second phase begins around 1615-1620. He expresses his own personality himself through original compositions that are a great success from the start and that lead to several repliques. His son Pieter Brueghel III and the renowned still-life and animal painter Frans Snyders are his pupils. Beyond continuing the work of his father, Pieter Brueghel II occupies a prominent place in the 17th century, particularly with the extreme pictorial quality of his paintings and the purity of his colors. He influences all of the Flemish painters of the 17th century. He has a particularly fruitful career, spanning nearly half a century, and achieves great success in his lifetime.