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Jan Brueghel the Elder

Panoramic landscape with the return of the cattle to the village

Copper: 20,5 x 27,5 cm

introduction

Drawing his direct inspiration from his father's work on the same theme currently in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, but with his typically loose tonal approach, Jan Brueghel the Elder has created here a remarkable and precocious panoramic landscape within dimensions that are practically miniature. The pronounced use of tonal perspective in three tones together with the pictorial treatment of the subject support a probable date of around 1600, as suggested by Professor K. Ertz.

Excellent comparison pieces, both in terms of the chromatic integration and the spatial conception, as well as the painterly handling are provided by the Harbour scene with the Landscape with Saint Fulgence at the Alte Pinacothek, Munich or in the River landscape from the Staatsgalerie of Aschaffenburg.

The viewer's attention is captured by the scene that occupies the entire left-hand foreground of the painting, forming a diagonal element, according to a formula recalling his father's work. This scene also serves to define the painting's allegorical subject: peasants preparing to bring their livestock home to the village, apparently to put them up for the winter.

The bare trunks of the mass of trees on the left and the other branches that appear in the village leave no doubt as to the approaching season: we are most definitely confronted here with an indirect and somewhat foreshadowed allegorical depiction of winter, in spite of the still green foliage and evergreens that appear lower down.

An additional anecdotal touch is lent by the somewhat sinister looking rider at the end of the procession of peasants. Wearing what appears to be a purse that is clearly well-filled and clothed all in black in the Spanish style, he is no doubt the local squire or at least the steward of the feudal master of the district, monitoring the bringing of the livestock to the stable and, in addition, surely intended as the symbol of the oppression that plunged the Netherlands into an extended winter freeze in the 16th century.

Below, the generous bends of the magnificent river unfold, while the horizon line is defined by mountainous outcroppings that allow for perspective views that expand the space within the painting, emphasized, as we have seen, by a pronounced tonal perspective as well as the subtle modulation of light and shadow.

At once an allegory, a rustic genre scene and a broad panoramic landscape, this copper panel mingles the many facets of the versatile talent of Jan Brueghel the Elder, with the sensitivity to atmospheric effects and anecdote that distinguishes his art.

Provenance :
Private collection.