Jan Brueghel the Elder
DIANA AND ACTAEON
Oil on copper. 10,9 x 14,8 cm.
Only shortly before the second volume of his catalogue raisonné of the work of Jan Brueghel the Elder was to go to press did Klaus Ertz become aware of this small painting. He considers it to be the earliest known work which can be assigned to the artist, painted in Italy ca. 1590. Jan's presence in Italy can be verified until 1596. In this year he was active for Cardinal Borromeo in Milan.
It is presumed that the artist left Antwerp for his journey to Italy in 1588/89. Sources document his presence in Napes in 1590. The composition of the mountains at left background presumes, according to Ertz, “a crossing of the of the Alps or at very least a familiarity with the Alpean foothills; accordingly, the creation of the work must be dated ca. 1590.”
The subject of Diana, goddess of hunting, taken by surprise while bathing by Acteon and for which his punishment Acteon was to be turned into a deer is, accounting Ertz, “a forward-looking subject of his early years which the painter continued in his repertoire for a long time.” Whereas in the later course of his artistic career he worked with other artists, such as Backer, van Balen or de Clerck, for staffage figures, Ertz believes that in his early works they were executed by Jan himself.
Private collection, Northrhine-Westphelia.
Klaus Ertz: Jan Brueghel der Ältere, Lingen 2008, p. 730, no. 357a.