The Brueghel dynasty: five generations of successful painters

By Nadia Baadj — 07 December 2021

No study of art history is complete with the Brueghel family. For two centuries, painters with the surname Brueghel, also spelled Bruegel, played an unprecedented role on Europe's art scene. Why? Each and every one of them possessed exceptional technique and painted amusing compositions and captivating scenes of the everyday and the beauty of nature.

In contrast to the huge paintings of their contemporaries such as Caravaggio and Rubens, the works of the Brueghels were painted on a smaller scale. They were also exhibited in an intimate setting, so people could view the works close-up at their leisure.

Just how big was the family? Very, is the answer. The Brueghel dynasty is made up of no fewer than five generations of successful painters, of whom Pieter Bruegel the Elder is probably the most famous. The Brueghels were active between 1550 and 1700, and practised almost every type of painting. From local and foreign landscapes and scenes of everyday peasant life, to allegories, mythical stories, history paintings, animals, and floral still lifes: the Brueghels were at home with all styles and techniques.

David Teniers de Jonge, The Spring (from a series of the four seasons), 1665-1670. On loan from the Cultural Heritage Agency

The new Bosch

The Brueghel dynasty had its roots in the Duchy of Brabant. According to Karel van Mander, one of his earliest biographers, Pieter Bruegel the Elder was born not far from Breda. Contemporaries also dubbed him the new Jheronimus Bosch. Owing to his special ties with Brabant and Bosch, the museum owns a sizeable collection of both the graphic oeuvre of Pieter the Elder, and paintings by his sons Pieter the Younger and Jan the Elder, his grandson Jan the Younger, and by David Teniers the Younger and Jan van Kessel the Elder. These paintings reflect beautifully our focus in recent decades on artistic families with a Brabant background, early modern painting from the Southern Netherlands, and floral still lifes.

Save the date: Brueghel exhibition in 2023

Following the huge success of the exhibition on Jheronimus Bosch in 2016, Brueghel is the second big name in early modern painting from the Southern Netherlands to whom we will be devoting a high-profile, monographic exhibition. In autumn 2023, you can come and marvel at the Brueghel dynasty.

Unique in the Netherlands

This ambitious exhibition is the first opportunity ever in the Netherlands to enjoy a unique overview of the entire Brueghel dynasty. Taking a very special selection of works, we shed light on the artistic career of each family member. We also dive deeper into various interesting themes, such as tradition and innovation down the generations, early modern studio practices, and the technique of painting on copper. Surprising subjects, supreme skill, and ingenious artworks make this exhibition a feast for the eyes. Save the date in your diary now!

Nadia Baadj (1983) has been the curator of old art at Het Noordbrabants Museum since 2021. She obtained her Master of Arts at Williams College and her PhD at the University of Michigan in the United States. She specializes in 16th and 17th-century Netherlandish art, particularly from the Southern Netherlands. Besides old art, she is interested in technical art history, and the relationship between art and nature.

Related articles