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

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

1610s
Oil on copper, 48,6 x 65,6 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

The artist was the son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He specialised in flower painting and landscapes, many of which demonstrate a particular emphasis on animals, both domestic and wild. Jan Brueghel was a leading painter of the Antwerp school and held important administrative positions in the artistic hierarchy of the city. He was also appointed court painter to Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella in Brussels in 1609, but he continued to live in Antwerp. Brueghel collaborated with a number of fellow artists such as Joos de Momper, Hendrick van Balen, Pieter Neefs and Hendrick van Steenwyck, but, most importantly, with Rubens, who was a close friend. A portrait by Rubens of Jan Brueghel with his second wife and two children, painted around 1613, is in the Courtauld Institute Galleries (Somerset House, London).

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a typical example of Jan Brueghel's style. He painted the subject numerous times, in addition to which there are several replicas and copies. The figures of Adam and Eve are placed characteristically to the back of the composition and it is appropriate to the theme that they are almost overwhelmed by their surroundings. Brueghel favoured works on a small scale, brought to a high degree of finish with carefully controlled brushwork, accurate drawing, and vivid colours. It is a highly decorative style, Mannerist in conception and miniaturist in execution.

His feeling for landscape was heightened by extensive travel in Italy: Naples in 1590, Rome in 1592-95 and Milan in 1595-96. Later he travelled to Germany, also visiting Prague in 1604 and Spain in 1612. His studies of animals and birds were done from life from those kept in Brussels in the menagerie of the Infanta Isabella, whose interest in animals Rubens shared. His close working relationship with Rubens is evident in the treatment of the horse in the foreground of Adam and Eve. The lion and lioness on the left are derived from the large composition by Rubens of Daniel in the Lion's Den of about 1613 (Washington, National Gallery of Art) which once belonged to Charles I, or from preparatory studies made for this painting (for example, Vienna, Albertina, or London, British Museum).

Jan Brueghel often reused his studies of animals: in other versions of the theme of Adam and Eve, such as that in The Hague (Mauritshuis) for which Rubens painted the figures, or that at Budapest; in compositions like the Family of Noah leading the Animals into the Ark, also of 1615 (London, Apsley House), and its variants (Budapest and Earl of Verulam's collection). A version of the present composition - in reverse - is in the Doria Gallery, Rome. By comparison with a replica in the Duke of Northumberland's collection, dated 1613, it is an earlier work.