The Garden of Eden the support stamped with the coat-of-arms of the City of Antwerp oil on panel 58.5 x 89.5 cm. (23 x 35¼ in.)
see front cover illustration
PROVENANCE: Acquired by the current owner's family in the mid-19th century and thence by family descent
We are grateful to Dr. Klaus Ertz for confirming the attribution and for dating the present painting to circa 1635, after inspection of the original. A certificate by Dr. Ertz, dated 25 April 2005, is available with this lot and it is to be included in Dr. Ertz's updated catalogue raisonné on the artist. The present work is a hitherto unrecorded version of this composition by Jan Brueghel the Younger, the earliest known version of which was painted around 1620 (oil on panel, 52 x 83.5 cm.). This is now in the Szepmüveszeti Museum, Budapest, while other later examples hang in the Museo del Prado, Madrid (circa 1626, oil on copper 57 x 88 cm.) and the Castello Sforzesco, Milan (circa 1630, oil on panel, 55 x 89 cm.).
A member of a large and successful family of artists, Jan Brueghel the Younger very probably began his training at the age of ten in the studio of his father, Jan Brueghel the Elder, whose works had a heavy influence on the younger painter. The landscape of the present composition, for example, is very much inspired by a group of paradise landscapes by Jan Brueghel the Elder, for example, Noah's entry into the Ark of 1613 in the Getty Museum, Malibu. Thus the early Budapest version of the present composition shows extremely close affinities to the work of the artists father, in whose studio it would have been painted. Between 1624-25, the younger Brueghel made a journey to Italy and stylistic comparisons between the Budapest picture and those other versions would suggest that they were painted at different sides of the artists southern trip, the present painting being the latest, dating from circa 1635, when the Youngers own particular style had become broader and thus more independent.
After travelling to Milan to meet Jan Brueghel the Elders patron, Cardinal Federico Borromeo, in the spring of 1624, Jan the Younger decided to prolong his Italian journey and went to Palermo with his childhood friend, Anthony van Dyck. However, this expedition was cut short: his father and three of his siblings were struck down suddenly by cholera in 1625 and Jan returned to Antwerp where he took over his fathers studio. Once back in Antwerp, Jan the Younger sold the remaining paintings by his father and completed those not yet finished. His work continued in much the same vein. Like his father, he collaborated frequently with Rubens and Hendrick van Balen as well as working on occasion with other artists, such as Abraham Janssen (his father-in-law), David Teniers the Younger and Hendrick de Clerck. The importance he attained in the artistic community in Antwerp is reflected in his being head of the Guild of Saint Luke, 1630-31.
With its symbolism of Original Sin, the Garden of Eden subject was popular among artists from the days of Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder in the sixteenth century, but from the incidental part here played by the figures of Adam and Eve, it appears to have interested Brueghel more for allowing him to display his interest in the exotic beauty of the natural world. Precedents for animal paintings were found in fable illustrations, emblem books, bestiaries, hunting texts and tapestries. But the animal parks that proved popular for seventeenth century artists, such as the Jan Brueghels, Roelandt Savery and Aelbert Cuyp, even when presented under the guise of traditional subjects, such as the Fall, Noahs Ark and Orpheus among the Beasts , displayed a whole new genre for easel painting. This genre may be placed in the context of the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution, which saw mans desire to record and categorise nature and coincided with the keeping of princely menageries, the first extensive collections of rare and unusual plants and the cult of the kunstkammer, a repository of such naturalia as antlers, shells, fossils and skeletons.
Thus the incident of the Fall as seen here is secondary to the composition while the painting as a whole may be better placed in the context of such displays of detailed virtuosity as Jan Brueghels allegories of the Four Elements. Indeed, the artist used the same background landscape and groupings of birds that he did in the present work in a depiction of the Four Elements that was sold in these rooms on 8 December, 1992 (lot 62) a work painted in collaboration with the figure-painter, Hendrick van Balen and which sold for £165,000.