Jan Brueghel the Elder
- Jan Brueghel the Elder
A Panoramic Landscape with a Covered Wagon and Travelers on a Highway
- signed and dated lower right BRVEGHEL 1612
the reverse stamped with the coppersmith's mark of Peeter Stas1
- oil on copper
- 8 by 12 1/4 in.; 20.3 by 31.1 cm.
With Slatter Gallery, London, 1954;
Anonymous Sale (The Property of a Continental Collector), London, Christie's, 11 April 1986, lot 36;
With David Koester, Zürich, by 1989;
Private Collection, Hamburg.
Zürich, David Koetser Gallery, Fine Old Master Paintings: The Dutch, Flemish and Italian Schools, 1991, no. 10.
A Panoramic Landscape with a Covered Wagon is a quintessential example of Jan Brueghel's small landscapes. The wonderful variety of forms and motifs, together with the intense color and beautiful surface of the picture, provide a visual delight and are clear indications of why the artist's popularity has endured for four centuries. Here a wagon and a cart pass each other on a well traveled road, the wagon heading toward the market town, whose steeples and towers we see in the distance, while the carter is apparently returning home. The road climbs up a gentle hill, marked by another wagon and two riders at its crest and then disappears from our view on the downward slope. In the middle distance are pale green fields and then in the far distance, the shimmering blue of the city.
A Panoramic Landscape with a Covered Wagon reflects Brueghel's mature landscape style, which can be seen in his paintings from about 1610 onwards. Rather than the bird's-eye view that predominated in the sixteenth century, he chose an only slightly elevated vantage point, bringing the viewer closer to the scene, but still preserving a distance between the spectator and the subject. He also developed a more subtle means of creating a sense of recession in place of the strictly defined bands of color and light that were characteristic of previous generations. It can be compared to other works from the period such as A Country Road with a Baggage Train, Munich, Alte Pinakotek, or A Panoramic Landscape with Travelers and a Wagon, sharing compositional elements as well as specific motifs such as the animal skeleton by the roadside and the birds of prey.2 However, in contrast to these and many of his other paintings of this time, there is a remarkable stillness in A Panoramic Landscape with a Covered Wagon. The figures are in movement, but except for the two boys begging at the side of the wagon and the couple in the right middle distance, they have no interaction with each other and appear completely self-contained.
The present work, like the two works mentioned above, is painted on copper -- a support that is perhaps ideal for these small, brilliant paintings. It offers a surface that is almost perfectly smooth, allowing Brueghel to display to full advantage the variety of his brush strokes and his uncanny ability to control them on a small scale. Because the copper absorbs so little of the paint, the individual strokes seem to stand up on the surface more than on a panel or canvas. We can see this in the tiny dark leaves of the tree in the right foreground and the bright yellow-green foliage further back, as well as in the miniscule blades of grass. By contrast, he paints the cow and herder far more broadly, capturing the animal's back legs and the man's drooping trouser with just a few bold strokes. The bright reds and blues of the figures' clothing almost glitter against the greens and earth tones of the landscape, creating, as so often said, a jewel-like effect. The sheer beauty of the work and marvelous control that Brueghel demonstrates here in A Panoramic Landscape with a Covered Wagon distinguish his finest pictures and set him apart from his contemporaries.
1. The mark is of the same type and size as illustrated by I. Wadum, "Antwerp Copper Plates," in Copper as Canvas, Two Centuries of Masterpiece Paintings on Copper 1575-1775, exhibition catalogue, Phoenix Art Museum 1999, p. 102, fig. 5.4.
2. Ertz, Op. cit., cat. nos. 24 and 49, and pp. 143-44.