The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder
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Rubens was doing the family of Jan Brueghel the Elder quite a favor.

I wish I’d be able to say that my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s family was painted by Peter Paul Rubens. Unfortunately, 17th-century Tribal societies in India didn’t really believe in portraits. Rubens never tried visiting either. In fact, 2013 was the first year that a genuine Rubens first set foot in India. It’s fine, we have other things, like chai.

Brueghel and Rubens were good friends and colleagues who would often paint together. Rubens would make the human figures, and Brueghel would make the animals. They collaborated on as many as 20 paintings. They met in Antwerp at the court of Archduke Albert and his wife, Isabella Infanta. At the time Belgium was the property of the Spanish crown. Albert and Isabella were known to collect exotic animals and for their patronage of artists. In the throes of foreign rule, two Belgian artists formed an alliance that brought them both a lot of fame and money.

In 1613, Brueghel’s family got together and posed for Rubens. Catharina Brueghel, the matriarch of the family, towers over her eldest children. She wears expensive jewelry that her kids are tugging on, but still looks confident, happy, and proud. She is the center of the painting, and of the family. Behind her, to her right, Jan Brueghel joins the portrait. He looks like a wraith trying to photobomb a perfectly staged photograph. Some believe that Brueghel was added as an afterthought, squeezed into the painting at the end. He’s cast to the side, in the darkness. Even his kids don’t care that he’s in the painting. I’m sure they loved Uncle Rubens though, he was named the guardian of Jan Brueghel’s kids when the older artist passed away.

Catharina was Jan Brueghel’s second wife. They had ten children together. Unfortunately Jan and two of the kids, Pieter and Elisabeth, died together, courtesy a cholera outbreak. This painting stayed in the possession of the Brueghel family till 1650.




  1. Sen, Sudeshna. “A Flemish Affair: Rubens, Van Dyck on First Visit to India.” The Economic Times. Economic Times, August 3, 2013.
  2. “A&A: Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder.” A&A | Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder, n.d.
  3. Lee, Philip. “Jan Brueghel the Elder and His Secret Collaborators.” Quintessentialruminations, June 30, 2014.
  4. “The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark - Jan Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, 1568 - 1625) - Google Arts & Culture.” Google. Google, n.d.
  5. Chevalier, Tracy. “Tracy Chevalier on The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder by Peter Paul Rubens.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, September 30, 2011.
  6. Michel, Emile, and Victoria Charles. Peter Brueghel. New York: Parkstone International, 2012.
  7. Dixon, Andrew Graham. “ITP 273: The Family of Jan Bruegel the Elder by Peter Paul Rubens: Andrew Graham-Dixon.” AndrewGraham. Andrew Graham-Dixon, July 24, 2005.