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Jan Brueghel, the Elder, was born in the year 1568, although the precise date is unknown, in Brussels, in an artistic family. On his mother’s side, his grandfather was Pieter Coecke van Aelst, and his grandmother was Mayken Verhulst, both artists of the Renaissance. Jan’s father, Pieter Brueghel, the Elder, was also a prominent painter of the Flemish Renaissance.
Along with Peter Paul Rubens, which often collaborated with him, Brueghel became the most popular and successful painters of his time. Brueghel was indirectly influenced by his father to pursue painting, as he passed away a year after young Brueghel’s birth. His mother, Maria Coecke van Aelst, passed away when he was about ten years old. His younger brother, Pieter, also became a painter. Historians believe that their primary artistic education came from their grandmother, Mayken.
Brueghel and Pieter traveled to Italy with the intent of deepening their artistic studies. During this period, the artist visited Cologne, Frankenthal, Naples, and Venice, where he came in contact with prominent artists, especially landscape painters. The priest and nobleman, Don Francesco Caracciolo, became his patron and commissioned mainly decorative works in small sizes.
In 1592, Jan moved to Rome, where he lived for around two years. During this time, he concluded many watercolor paintings of the ancient ruins of Rome, which was quite passionate about, especially the Colosseum. The artist made significant connections, like with the Belgian landscape painter Paul Bril, who worked alongside his brother Matthijs. Jan also became friends with the German artist Hans Rottenhammer, known for his portrayals of mythological and religious subjects. The Flemish painter was deeply influenced by both, and they even collaborated. Also in Rome, he befriended Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, who became his patron.
Brueghel settled in Antwerp in 1596, after a period of living in Milan, and became a part of the Guild of Saint Luke as a Free Master. Three years after he moved to the Belgian city, Brueghel married Isabella de Jode, and they had a child together in September 1601. Their son, Jan Brueghel, the Younger, followed in the family’s craft and became a prominent Baroque painter.
Tragically, Isabella passed away shortly after the birth of their second child, Paschasia, Rubens’ godchild. After a period in Prague, Brueghel returned to Antwerp, bought a house in 1604, and married a year later to Catharina van Marienburg. The couple built a large family, with a total of eight children, of which, Ambrosius Brueghel became a Baroque artist. In 1606, Jan was named the official court painter in the Netherlands.
His fame grew throughout his career, as Brueghel collaborated with the leading artists of the time to create masterpieces, mostly with Rubens. He created many breathtaking religious paintings and is considered the pioneer of paradisical landscapes.
Jan the Elder Brueghel died on January 13th, 1625, after contracting cholera.