Jan, who was born shortly before the death of his famous father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, advanced the genre of northern landscape painting beyond his father’s legacy. In this refined, well-preserved panel, the vast depth of the landscape is balanced by an attention to the humanity of the peasant subjects and their humble tasks in the foreground. The juxtaposition of the living and the dead—the lush woods with a fallen dead tree, and the living horses with a horse’s skeleton—reflects the mortality of all living things that results in their eventual return to the earth.
Influenced by the style and techniques of his father, the renowned Netherlandish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569), Jan Brueghel ’s skill as a landscape painter reached its peak at the beginning of the seventeenth century. After joining the Antwerp painters’ guild in 1597, Jan shifted his focus from the still-life paintings of his earlier years to advancing the genre of Northern landscape painting beyond his father’s legacy.
Signed and dated 1607 at the lower left, A Woodland Road with Travelers is one of Brueghel’s most refined landscape paintings. The vast depth of the landscape is balanced by an attention to the humanity of the peasant subjects and their humble tasks in the foreground. The juxtaposition of the living and the dead—the lush woods with a fallen dead tree, and the living horses with a horse’s skeleton—reflects the mortality of all living things that results in their eventual return to the earth.
Brueghel is often characterized as the most significant Northern artist in the period between the work of his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and that of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). The arrangement of country figures traveling a road which recedes into the distance is a formula that he learned from his father and adapted to pass on to his pupils and followers (see Notes). Brueghel emphasizes the recession into space by carefully diminishing the scale of figures in the foreground, middle-ground, and far distance. To further the sense of atmospheric perspective, varying tones of brown, green, and blue are used progressively to characterize the recession of space. This color scheme is punctuated by small areas of bright red in the clothing of some of the peasant figures. The landscapes of Rubens, such as A Forest at Dawn with a Deer Hunt (The Met, 1990.196) of about 1635, demonstrate the influence of Jan Brueghel the Elder, and the further development of the genre in a more dramatic mode.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): BRVEGHEL 1607·
?Duc de Berry, Palais de l'Elysée, Paris (until 1837; his sale, Paillet, Paris, April 4–6, 1837, no. 95, as "Vue extérieure d'un village de la Flandre," wood, 18 x 30 pouces [approx. 19 x 32 in.], for Fr 710); the Earls of Warwick, Warwick Castle (by 1903–28); Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick, Warwick Castle (1928–74); [Edward Speelman, London, 1974; sold to MMA]
Art Gallery of the Corporation of London. "Works by Early and Modern Painters of the Dutch School," April 28–July 25, 1903, no. 147 (as "A Road Scene," lent by the Earl and Countess of Warwick).
Bruges. Musée Communal Groeninge. "L'Art flamand dans les collections britanniques et la Galerie Nationale de Victoria," August–September 1956, no. 56 (as "Chemin forestier," lent by the Earl of Warwick).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions, 1965–1975," December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976, unnumbered cat.
M. P[ierre]. Defer. Catalogue général des ventes publiques de tableaux et estampes depuis 1737 jusqu'à nos jours. part 2, Vol. 2, Paris, 1868, p. 149, no. 30.
L'Art flamand dans les collections britanniques et la Galerie Nationale de Victoria. Exh. cat., Musée Communal Groeninge, Bruges. Brussels, 1956, p. 47, no. 56, pl. 43, as "Chemin forestier," lent by the Earl of Warwick, as probably acquired by Guy Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick, about 1780.
F. Grossmann. "Flemish Paintings at Bruges." Burlington Magazine 99 (January 1957), p. 5.
H[orst]. Gerson and E. H. ter Kuile. Art and Architecture in Belgium 1600 to 1800. Baltimore, , pp. 59, 181 n. 24, pl. 46B.
Matthias Winner. "Zeichnungen des älteren Jan Brueghel." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 3 (1961), p. 218.
Matías Díaz Padrón. "I—Escuela flamenca: Siglo XVII." Museo del Prado: Catálogo de Pinturas. Madrid, 1975, vol. 1, p. 58, under no. 1885.
Matthias Winner inPieter Brueghel d. Ä. als Zeichner, Herkunft und Nachfolge. Exh. cat., Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Berlin, 1975, under no. 121, [see Ref. Liedtke 1984].
European Drawings from the Fitzwilliam. Exh. cat.[Washington], 1976, p. 39, under no. 62.
Didier Bodart. Rubens e la pittura fiamminga del Seicento nelle collezioni pubbliche fiorentine. Exh. cat., Palazzo Pitti. Florence, 1977, p. 92, under no. 22, erroneously as in the collection of the Earl of Warwick, Warwick Castle; compares it with a work of 1607.
Fritz Baumgart. Blumen Brueghel. Cologne, 1978, p. 52, erroneously as in an English collection.
Klaus Ertz. Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568–1625): die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog. Cologne, 1979, pp. 68–69, 85, 88, 149, 150–51, 582, 584, no. 149, figs. 40, 72, 79, cites "autograph replicas" and variants [see Notes].
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 298, 305, fig. 534 (color).
Walter A. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 16–18; vol. 2, colorpl. II, pls. 8–9 (overall and detail), discusses other versions and variants of the composition [see Notes], observing that this may be the earliest of several closely related pictures.
Walter A. Liedtke. "Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum—II: Van Dyck, Jordaens, Brouwer, and Others." Tableau 6 (February 15, 1984), pp. 31, 34, fig. 14.
F. Hamilton Hazlehurst. "A New Source for Rubens's 'Château de Steen'." Burlington Magazine 129 (September 1987), p. 588, fig. 26, observes that Rubens must have been familiar with this painting or a similar one by Jan Brueghel the Elder, as the motifs of the horsedrawn carts with the driver astride the horse on the left, [n.b., field capacity inadequate for entire text].
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 27, 152–53, no. 45, ill. (color).
Peter C. Sutton. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 1993, pp. 461–62, fig. 2.
Larry Silver. Peasant Scenes and Landscapes: The Rise of Pictorial Genres in the Antwerp Art Market. Philadelphia, 2006, p. 202, fig. 9.14.
Klaus Ertz (1979) cites "five autograph replicas" of the Museum's painting. This description certainly applies to the smaller painting on copper in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, and to the panel of nearly identical size in a Belgian private collection. The version of the same size said to be in a private collection in Florence is possibly by Brueghel. Two versions of an identical landscape with travelers attacked by highwaymen are evidently variations by Brueghel and Vrancx made about the same date. Ertz also lists two pictures (in Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, and Museum Narodowe, Warsaw) that he loosely describes as variants by other artists. The version in the Prado, Madrid, mentioned by Horst Gerson (1960) is not cited and is presumably rejected by Ertz. The same landscape and the central motif of a wagon with three horses and a rider are found in a drawing dated on the reverse December 3, 1607, that was sold in Leipzig in 1930. This is probably a preparatory sketch for the Museum's picture. The old man with a sack in the right foreground occurs in a sheet of drawings of peasants, at Chatsworth. Another drawing, probably after the Museum's picture, is in the Uffizi, Florence. A painting on copper, signed and dated 1607, in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, is very similar in composition, although not quite close enough to be described as a variant of the Museum's picture.
See Paintings Department archives for drawings of the red wax seals on the back of this panel.
Artist: Circle of Jan Brueghel the Elder (Netherlandish, Brussels 1568–1625 Antwerp)Date: 16th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, brown, and red wash, over black chalk; framing lines in brown inkAccession: 80.3.464On view in:Not on view
Artist: After Jan Brueghel the Elder (Netherlandish, Brussels 1568–1625 Antwerp) (?)Date: 17th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown, blue, and gray wash; framing lines in black inkAccession: 42.186.1On view in:Not on view
Artist: In the manner of Jan Brueghel the Elder (Netherlandish, Brussels 1568–1625 Antwerp)Date: 16th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, brown wash (faded gray); circular framing lines lightly sketched in pen and brown inkAccession: 06.1042.4On view in:Not on view
Artist: circle of Jan Brueghel the Elder (Netherlandish, Brussels 1568–1625 Antwerp)Date: ca. 1594Medium: Pen and brown ink, brown and blue wash, over black chalk; framing lines in brown ink.Accession: 65.209On view in:Not on view