Exposition : “Brueghels: The Dynasty Continued”, Saint-Pétersbourg, Menshikov Palace, jusqu’au 28 août 2022
The display contains 28 paintings by outstanding Flemish artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. The pictures belong to one of the largest private collections in Russia, the core of which is made up of works by celebrated continuers of the traditions established by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see paintings by later generations of his famous family – his sons, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder, a grandson, Jan Brueghel the Younger, and a great-grandson, Jan van Kessel the Elder.
“The Hermitage is presenting two phenomena – a celebrated family collection known for the purposefulness of its intelligent acquisition, and a family school of painting that combines in an original manner diversity and unity across the art of several generations. Let me remind you that we recently triumphantly exhibited the restored Preaching of St John the Baptist, a copy by Pieter Breughel the Younger of a painting by the Elder.” Mikhail Piotrovsky, General Director of the State Hermitage, stated.
These artists continue to arouse genuine, lively interest among present-day collectors and the broader viewing public. Art historians speak of the “Brueghel phenomenon” in the artistic life of Flanders. The works of the patriarch of the dynasty, the great Pieter Brueghel the Elder, who was given the appellation Peasant Brueghel by his countryfolk, and also of his two sons – Pieter the Younger (known as Hell Brueghel due to a misunderstanding arising from other artists’ works being attributed to him) and Jan the Elder (nicknamed Velvet Brueghel), and three grandchildren together form something unique in the history of Western European art.
After the death of Peasant Brueghel, at a relatively young age, his descendants emerged as gifted continuers and skilful promoters of the Brueghel tradition in 17th-century Flemish painting. It is, however, evident that the siblings, Peter the Younger and Jan the Elder, possessed different creative characters. For all the apparent superficial similarity of type and common primary source, they produced works that were diametric opposites in terms of artistic direction and semantic import.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his studio produced memorable, edifying examples of mass culture aimed at a wide viewing public. The works of Jan – Velvet – Brueghel and his son, Jan the Younger, are finely executed intimate landscapes, still lifes, paintings on subjects from Scripture and Classical mythology, and also the “scholarly” allegories that were so highly prized by the contemporary and subsequent generations of connoisseurs of refined elitist “cabinet painting”.
The central place in the exhibition is taken by Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s work The Good Shepherd. Due to the high quality of the painting, for many years scholars attributed this masterpiece to Peasant Brueghel himself. Following his father’s original, which has not survived, Pieter the Younger offers an entirely unique interpretation of the subject that is unparalleled in world art. The artist departs from the traditional iconography for the depiction of Christ as the Good Shepherd, holding a lamb symbolizing humanity in his arms.
One of the most significant paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Younger also on show in the hall is the work known as The Bean King (The King Drinks!) in which the artist demonstrates exceptional inventiveness and mastery in the depiction of genre scenes.
An important place in the display is taken by works on the theme of Low Countries proverbs. They include the painting The Rich Man and the Flatterers which illustrates the meaning of the saying about a crowd of sycophants surrounding a wealthy person. It is among the earliest examples of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s art.
The Brueghels’ works contain embodiments of pithy expressions of human wisdom that first appeared in deep antiquity but remain eternally valid. “Peasant humour” is present in their art in combination with tragic irony. The Brueghels often drew upon parables and allegory, lecturing and edifying their audience. They left much without explanation, calling upon the viewer to reflect upon the truths of faith and the mysteries of God’s Kingdom, both earthly and heavenly.
The masterpieces of painting created by the renowned Brueghel dynasty are supplemented in the exhibition by a number of pictures by their contemporaries who worked in various genres. Those include Sebastiaen Vrancx, Jan van Kessel the Elder, Joos de Momper and Frans Francken the Younger.
The concept and composition of the exhibition provide an exceptional opportunity to trace the evolution and fate of the Brueghel tradition in Flemish art across the whole of the 17th century. The works displayed make it possible to substantially broaden existing conceptions of the phenomenon of the younger Brueghels and the creative character of their contemporaries.
Owners of the collection: Valeria and Konstantin Mauergayz
Curator of the collection: Yekaterina Dolgova
Curators of the exhibition: Vadim Sadkov, Doctor of Art Studies, professor, author of the idea; Alisa Mezentseva, researcher in the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.
The exhibition has been prepared by the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art, headed by Sergei Androsov.
A scholarly illustrated catalogue, Breigeli. Prodolzhenie dinastii. Flamandskaia zhivopis’ iz sobraniia Valerii i Konstantina Mauergauz, has been published for the exhibition. The author and compiler is Vadim Sadkov. It includes texts and descriptions of the exhibits produced by State Hermitage researchers – Sergei Androsov (“At the sources of the collecting of Flemish paintings in Russia”) and Alisa Mezentseva (“ Winter Landscape. Pieter Breughel the Elder and his interpretation in the context of the Brueghel tradition”).