BRUEGHEL, Jan the Elder
(b. ca. 1568, Brussel, d. 1625, Antwerpen)

Great Fish-Market

1603
Oil on panel, 59 x 92 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Brueghel's Great Fish-Market, dating from the year 1603, contains many elements of Mannerist landscape painting. Rendered in a perspective that is almost a bird's-eye-view, the scene opens up across a downward-sloping foreground teeming with hundreds of figures grouped around the stalls and booths of a fishmarket. The eye is drawn towards the harbour in the background, out across the bay and along the coastline, past entire towns with ruins, piers and fortresses, into the depths of the mountains, whose blue merges with the sea.

What we see here is a universal landscape, but one broken down into individual themes that are soon to establish themselves as genres in their own right. Fish-market scenes of this kind were to become an independent subject in Flemish painting, for example in the works of Snyder. Still life paintings of fish, such as that displayed for sale here, would also begin to emerge. Marine painting, ruins, and even pure landscape are all to be found as elements in this painting. We even seem to be able to make out a family portrait: the group at the centre of the foreground is thought to be a self portrait of the painter in the company of his family.