Jan Brueghel the Elder
MARIEMONT CASTLE WITH ARCHDUKE ALBRECHT AND ISABELLA
Oil on copper. 9,4 x 14,8 cm.
This small painting on copper by Jan Brueghel the Elder from the year 1611 depicts a landscape with Mariemont Castle, another version of which exists in the Bavarian State Painting Collections (inv. nr. 1893; cf. Klaus Ertz: Jan Brueghel der Ältere, Cologne 1979, p. 597, nr. 238, and Konrad Renger and Claudia Denk: Flämische Malerei des Barock in der Alte Pinakothek, Cologne 2002, p. 126 f.). Under the number 557a, Klaus Ertz will include the painting as an autographic work by Jan Brueghel in the third volume of the artist's works which presently is in preparation.
In a broad landscape the painting20presents Mariemont Castle, which can be seen between narrow, high trees and which is situated to the south of Brussels. The figures in foreground include Archduke Albrecht of Austria, his wife Isabella of Spain and Portugal and their entourage as they leave the castle and are greeted by the rural population. Mariemont Castle was built by Albrecht and Isabella between 1600 and 1608, after the original building, constructed by Maria of Hungary in the mid-sixteenth century, had been destroyed. As of 1611 Jan Brueghel was commissioned to paint the castle, and among these pictures there are large and middle formats as well as small cabinet paintings. His depictions of the castle are so topographically exact that the respective points of view and the various phases of construction of the castle layout can be reconstructed. The present painting is a view from the north towards the main façade, the main gate and the working wing. Still missing are the corner towers, which later will be supplemented, as well as the ample gardens and alleys which appear in later views (cf. Ertz 1979, p. 157-163).
Despite its small size this view of Mariemon t Castle had an eminent political function. Such pictures served the topographical representation and the legitimacy of Albrecht and Isabella's rule over the southern Netherlands. The ducal couple ruled over this territory as a sovereign duchy since 1599 (Isabella had received the property as dowry from her father Philipp II), this authority was made manifest by views of castles such as Mariemont and Tervuren. Legitimacy of authority is pointed out by the presence of the rural population, who greet Albrecht and Isabella. The closeness of Albrecht and Isabella to the people, on the one hand, as well as their affection for the royal couple on the other are central to the ducal couple's iconography of authority, and this in reference Jan Bruegel's paintings of peasant feasts (in which Albrecht and Isabella are depicted) has been pointed (about this see Claudia Banz, Mäzentum in Brüssel, Kardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517-1586) und die Erzherzöge Albrecht (1559-1621) und Isabella (1566-1633), Berlin 2000, p. 25 f.).
The views of Mariemont Castle were made during the period in which, after the twelve year armistice with the northern provinces, Albrecht and Isabella began a magnificent patronage and gave artists such as Peter Paul Rubens numerous commissions.
Klaus Ertz, Lingen, 5.2.2009.