This is a rare late work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, painted just three years prior to his death in 1625. The subject, a group of heavily laden travellers journeying through an extensive and panoramic landscape, is one often repeated by Brueghel and exists perhaps most famously in his Windmill with travellers in Munich, Alte Pinakothek.1 The present work offers a rare close-up of figures and horses so that Brueghel's exceptional skill with the small brush and his minute attention to detail is clearly apparent.
Brueghel's work was in very high demand during his lifetime and indeed he spent the last 17 years of his life as court painter to the Archdukes Albert and Isabella, the Habsburg regents of the Netherlands, in Brussels. Further commissions came from Emperor Rudolph II and Sigismund III of Poland. Unlike his brother Pieter the Younger, Jan did not merely imitate his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder; thanks to the influence of Gillis van Coninxloo III Jan broke away from his father's tradition and promoted a style of landscape painting that would be imitated for well over a hundred years, culminating in the 18th century with the work of Karel Beschey, Theobold Michau and Josef Bredael.
A note on the provenance: this picture formed part of the collection of the Electors (Kurfürst) of Bavaria and, along with the majority of Flemish pictures in that collection, it was probably acquired between 1698 and 1710 by Maximilian II Emmanuel who was the last Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. It is recorded in the Kurfürstliche Galerie in Munich before being transferred to the Alte Pinakothek; from there it was transferred to the Gemäldegalerie in Augsburg where it remained until 1912. The painting is first recorded in the 1822 inventory of the Augsburg Gemäldegalerie and it is probable that it hung there from the gallery's inception in 1810.
1. See Ertz, under Literature, p. 597, reproduced p. 66, fig. 37.
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