Jacob Jordaens was a Flemish draughtsman, painter, and tapestry designer. After Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens, Jordaens was the foremost Flemish Baroque painter of his period. Even though many of his peers drew inspiration from the Italian Renaissance, Jordaens's work was more indebted to the Flemish tradition, like the moral allegories and genre scenes of Jan The Elder Brueghel. Still, he was influenced by a select group of Italian Baroque artists such as Jacobo Bassano and Caravaggio, from whom he earned a tragic sense. He lived in Antwerp his entire life, but his work was bought and admired in London, Vienna, Florence, and Amsterdam, and one of his students was from Poland and another one from Sweden.
Jacob Jacques Jordaens was born in May 1593, in Antwerp, Belgium. He was the eldest of eleven children. His father, Jacob Jordaens Sr., worked with the linen market, and the Jordaens family was constituted of wealthy merchants. The association of a thriving bourgeoisie, the class of merchants and artists was a common thing in the Low Countries, as it was the case for Vermeer and Frans Hals as well.
Although little is known about Jordaens' early education, it is supposed that he was provided proper training, a usual privilege for children of his social class. This supposition is supported by his proficient French, knowledge of mythology, and clear writing. His familiarity and interest in religious subjects are apparent in many of his paintings. His curiosity with the Bible was only strengthened after his conversion from Catholic to Protestant.
Just as fellow painter Rubens, Jacob Jordaens studied under Adam van Noort. While Rubens stayed for a short period, changing to Otto van Veen's studio, Jordaens continued with the same master. During this period, the Flemish artist lived in Van Noort's house, where he became very close to the rest of his teacher's family. Jacob was only 14 when he moved there, proving that he previously had a short education.
Van Noort's work was focused on historical painting, and he was part of St. Luke's Guild. His father worked as a designer and was responsible for Van Noort's artistic formation, which introduced Jacob Jordaens to tapestry design. Despite not becoming as famous as his pupils, he had around 35 students in his workshop, which confirms that he was a successful and respected teacher.
After eight years of studying with van Noort, Jordaens entered the St. Luke's Guild as a watercolorist or waterschilder. Watercolor was commonly used for preparing tapestry drawings in the seventeenth century, a medium that Jacob later worked with. Even though oil on canvas is his most famous medium, he produced watercolors as sketches during his whole life.
By 1816, one year after entering the Guild, Jordaens artist painted The Holy Family With Shepherds; his first dated work shows he was already a significant painter. The artist's technique is reminiscent of Bassano's work, using expressive and contrast lighting and filling the composition with figures that dissolve in the background.
From 1816 to 1818, Jordaens worked along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck on the Decius Mus Cycle. Narrating the story of the Roman consul Decius Mus, an early manifestation of Rubens' interest in the Classical world, the artists created a series of 8 paintings used as the bases for tapestry design. Jordaens' experience with the medium helped the ambitious project, and he shared the finalization of many images with van Dyck.
As van Dyck became internationally recognized and created a good network of foreign patrons, Jordaens worked extensively with Rubens in the next years. As their relationship progressed and the size of the commissions grew, the Dutch master provided Jacob with oil sketches and made him responsible for entire paintings, such as Apollo as a Victor over Pan and The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis.
Their artistic dialogue confirms that they not only had shared confidence, but Rubens respected Jordaens as his equal. Both artists were interested in expanding the influence of their country's painting, and they embodied the importance that their region claimed.
In the same year he entered St. Luke's Guild, the painter married Anna Catharina van Noort, his master's eldest daughter. They had three children and, in 1618, bought a house in the neighborhood that the artist grew up. For creating the interior decoration of his house, he was inspired by Paolo Veronese, who also influenced Rubens in his commission for the Jesuit Church.
Jordaens never traveled to Italy to research Renaissance and Classical art, as it was standard at the time. Instead, the artist learned about the Italian Masters through prints and artworks of Italian artists located in northern Europe. Through that method, he studied the old masters and was especially captivated by Titian and Caravaggio's pictures.
Jordaens' patrons were mostly wealthy Flemish clients and clergy. Although towards his late-career, the artist worked for governments and courts throughout Europe. Besides his impressive number of oil paintings, Jordaens was also a very prolific tapestry designer. Tapestry made a good portion of his income and was one reason that his work could spread outside of his country without him ever leaving it.
From 1621 on, the painter acted as a master in his Guild. Through the Guild's records and other documents from this time, it's estimated he had around 21 pupils. Even though he didn't have notable apprentices, he was hailed as a good teacher, and working in his workshop was an ambition held by many upcoming artists. One of his most famous artworks was created around this period called Offering to Ceres, Goddess of Harvest, and is held today at the Museum of Prado in Madrid.
The painter's early work was characterized by Mannerism's influence, as it can be seen in an unsystematic and varied use of color, unnatural lighting, and detailed patterns. In the 1620s and 1630s, he incorporated saturated colors and developed a rich and lush palette, refining a treatment of the painting's surface that used both impasto and diluted paint.
Following Rubens' death in 1640, Jordaens became one of Antwerp's foremost painters. Similar to Rubens, he utilized a warm palette on his pictures and masterfully executed the use of tenebrism and chiaroscuro. The artist also completed many paintings inspired by Jan Steen, creating large-scale genre scenes inspired by peasant themes.
During the 1640s, Jordaens reached his artistic peak. As an artist with decades of artistic experimentation and change, he always looked to his contemporaries to grow but still maintain his own identity. He abandoned the texture of impasto, favoring smooth surfaces and showing masterful brushwork.
In Portrait of the Artist's Daughter Elizabeth used a warm color palette with tones of pink, blue, and yellow. Elizabeth's painting evokes a sentiment of tenderness, and she is given a lightweight quality, which was a formal motif of the painter during this decade.
With the increasing commissions after Jordaens became Antwerp's top painter, he made many religious paintings for local Orders. The artist painted altarpieces and was commissioned by small regional churches outside of his city.
During his last decades of production, the painter embraced again the tenebrism that he always admired in Caravaggio's art. He doesn't lose his pictorial expressiveness, but his figures gain a schematic aspect, and the whole picture becomes more solemn with the use of dark priming.
His commitment to work was inspirational. Despite his old age, the artist didn't stop his practice and continued creating. In 1660, he was invited by the government to produce pictures for Amsterdam's Town Hall. Along with Jacob Van Ruisdael, Jan Lievens, Jurgen Ovens, and Rembrandt Van Rijn, the painter was hired by de Graeff brothers, politicians from the city. The project was initially thought of with Govert Flinck, who died that year, having finished only one of the twelve paintings.
Jacob Jordaens died in October 1678, a victim of the mysterious Antwerp disease, which also victimized his daughter on the same day.
The notable critic Roger Fry, who was part of the Bloomsbury Group and a passionate critic in favor of Post-Impressionism, stated that a revision of Jordaens' oeuvre was necessary since, until then, many authors had placed him only under Rubens' influence. Fry argued that the painter could work visually with a sense of optimism that was the prevalent attitude in the Low Countries at the time. This sentiment was associated with the bourgeoisie. The critic stated there is an inevitable "gluttony" in this spirit, which in the artist's work is translated in color: the aspect of juiciness.
The almost grotesque quality of the figures, a trait that the younger and more famous Rubens shows in his mythological works as well, depicting gods as drunkards and buffoons, is more complicated and refined in Jordaens' pictures: he oscillated between the bourgeois, proving themselves as either upcoming, already wealthy and happy, and a more austere and sober quality. Fry offers the example of Pan and Syrinx as a case where the painter has a simplicity in design similar to Italian art.