A touching portrait of the family of the artist Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) by his close friend and collaborator Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) , The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder , Around 1613–15, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder

Peter Paul Rubens

This painting celebrates family and friendship. It is a touching portrait of the family of the artist Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) by his close friend and collaborator Peter Paul Rubens. The two artists often worked together on paintings. When collaborating, Brueghel was typically responsible for still-life elements and landscapes, while Rubens contributed the figures.

In this portrait, no indication of Brueghel’s artistic profession is given. The family wear their finest clothes and are presented as wealthy citizens of Antwerp. Brueghel’s wife, Catharina (died 1627), is at the heart of the tight group, surrounded by their children Pieter (1608-1625) and Elisabeth (1609-1625). Their hands meet tenderly in the centre. Rubens added the figure of Brueghel at a late stage, painting him over the dark background.

The dating of the work is based on the children’s probable ages. It is also a record of their short lives: they both died, along with their father, during the cholera epidemic of 1625.

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