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Abraham Janssens

1575 – Antwerp – 1632

Abraham Janssens, a painter of historical, allegorical, mythological and religious subjects, was born in Antwerp in 1585. He first trained with the painter Jan Snellinck. After studying in Rome for three years, where the Caraveggesque movement was in full bloom, he returned to Antwerp in 1601 and was immediately admitted into the Guild of Saint Luke as a master. Thanks to his experience in Italy, he quickly became a leader of the Antwerp school, alongside Ambrosius Francken and Otto van Veen, heading the tradition of monumental painting as opposed to the development of small-sized genre painting.

Significant numbers of orders testify to the prestige he enjoyed. In 1605, he was asked to paint the triptych of the metropolitan chapel of the corporation of painters in Saint Rombaut’s church in Malines. In 1609, it was Antwerp’s turn to order an allegorical painting from him, celebrating the essential role of the Scheldt in Antwerp’s prosperity: this painting, ‘Scaldis et Antverpia’, still hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In this initial period of maturity, Janssens’ paintings are characterised by the highly plastic appearance of his figures; they are all linked to each other in compositions painted in close-up and emphasised by a very personal distribution of shadows and light. Janssens’ dominant position in the Antwerp scene rapidly changed with the return of Peter Paul Rubens from Italy in 1608. Gradually removed from the limelight by his rival, Abraham Janssens succeeded in developing his style by following new trends and adopting a more ‘baroque’ style. However, he always retained this vigorous and appealing style which can be seen in all his works.