Paul Bril (Antwerp 1554-1626 Rome)
Paul Bril (Antwerp 1554-1626 Rome)

Saint Jerome praying in a rocky landscape

Paul Bril (Antwerp 1554-1626 Rome)
Saint Jerome praying in a rocky landscape
signed 'PB' (lower left), and inscribed with initials and dated 'PB 1592' (incised on the reverse)
oil on copper
10¼ x 13 in. (25.7 x 32.8 cm.)
The Earl Winterton, M.P., Shillinglee Park, Chiddingfold; Christie's, London, 12 December 1947, lot 43, as Jan Brueghel (380 gns. to Pulsbourough).
Mrs. M.Q. Morris, London, by 1959.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 29 November 1961, lot 49 (2,857 gns. to A. Duits).
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Gentleman]; Sotheby's, London, 26 March 1969, lot 82, where acquired by the father of the present owners (5,742 gns.).
G.T. Faggin, 'Per Paolo Bril', Paragone, CLXXXV, 1965, pp. 22, 27, 32, no. 46, note 8, pl. 16.
J. Zimmer, Joseph Heintz der Ältere als Maler, Weißenhorn, 1971, p. 88.
W. Kloek, Beknopte catalogus van de Nederlandse tekeningen in het prentenkabinet van de Uffizi te Florence, Utrecht, 1975, under no. 32.
A. Blankert, Nederlandse Italianiserende Landschapschilders, Soest, 1978, p. 225.
T. Gerszi, 'Les antécédents du tableau de Jan Brueghel "Paysage rocheux avec Saint Antoine" et son influence', Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, LI, 1978, p. 113, note 14.
L. Salerno, Landscape Painters of the Seventeenth Century in Rome, Rome, 1976, I, p. 12, pl. 2.1, note 13; III, p. 1002, note 13.
K.G. Boon, 'Paul Bril's 'perfetta imitazione de' veri paesi'', Relations artistiques entre les Pays-Bas et l'Italie à la renaissance: études dédiées à Suzanne Sulzberger, Brussels and Rome, 1980, p. 6, note 8.
S. Bedoni, Jan Brueghel in Italia e il Collezionismo del Seicento, Florence and Milan, 1983, p. 94, 97.
A. Berger, Die Tafelgemälde Paul Brils, Munster, 1993, p. 203.
E.P. Bowron, '"Full Details and Very Subtly and Carefully Executed": Oil paintings on copper around 1600', The International Fine Art Fair, Seventh Regiment Armory, New York, 1995, p. 16, fig. 7.
L. Pijl, 'Bril (Brill; Brilli; Brillo), Paul (Paolo; Paulus)', in G. Meissner, et al., Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon: Die Bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, XIV, Munich and Leipzig, 1996, p. 228.
E.P. Bowron, 'A brief history of European oil paintings on copper 1560-1775', in Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Masterpiece paintings on copper 1575-1775, exhibition catalogue, Phoenix, Art Museum; Kansas, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and The Hague, The Royal Cabinet of Paintings Maurithuis, 1998-1999, pp. 17 and 146.
L. Wood Ruby, Paul Bril: The Drawings, Turnhout, 1999, pp. 79, 120, 140, note 132; p. 146, note 368; and p. 151, note 589.
L.Pijl, review 'Louisa Wood Ruby, 'Paul Bril: The Drawings'', The Burlington Magazine, CXLII, 2000, p. 177.
F. Cappelletti, Paul Bril e la pittura di paesaggio a Roma 1580-1630, Rome, 2005, p. 216, no. 15.
L. Pijl, in W.Th. Kloek and B.W. Meijer, Fiamminghi e Olandesi a Firenze: Disegni dalle collezioni degli Uffizi, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe degli Uffizi, 2008, pp. 86-7, under no. 44.
To be included in Luuk Pijl's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Paul Bril's paintings in oil.
Plymouth, City Art Gallery and Bristol, Museum and Art Galleries, The Morris Loan Collection, 1959, no. 8.

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Lot Essay

The most influential landscape painter of his time, Paul Bril was born in Breda in 1553 or 1554. He trained in Antwerp with the unknown Damiaen Ortelmans and, only 14 years old, supported himself by painting landscapes on harpsichords. He travelled to Rome in 1576, where he joined his elder brother Matthijs, who was involved in fresco painting. After Matthijs' premature death in 1583, Paul succeeded him on several Papal commissions in the Vatican and in various churches and villas in and around Rome. He played a crucial role in the Eternal City, not only artistically, but also socially. Bril introduced Jan Brueghel the Elder to the important patron Cardinal Federico Borromeo; he was best man at the marriage of the influential German painter Adam Elsheimer; and he housed Bartolomeus Breenbergh for many years. The master died in 1626 leaving a large oeuvre of wall decorations, etchings, drawings and paintings. His work paved the way for Claude Lorrain, who would become the most important landscape painter in seventeenth-century Europe.

Being his earliest dated cabinet picture, this painting marks an important moment in Paul Bril's long and successful career. After his arrival in Rome, circa 1576, he became, together with his elder brother Matthijs, highly sought after as a painter of wall decorations in a combined fresco and secco technique. It was not before Bril was in his late thirties that he started to paint the jewel-like cabinet pictures he became famous for. Among his clients for small scale paintings were illustrious collectors such as Frederico Borromeo, the Barberini, the Colonna and others. His pictures were also exported to the North. For example, the painter and writer on art Karel van Mander writes in his Schilderboeck, published in 1604, that he saw a beautiful work on copper by Paul Bril representing the Campo Vaccino in the collection the Amsterdam merchant Hendrick van Os.

Bril's work is firmly rooted in the Flemish landscape tradition of Patinir, Herri met de Bles and Pieter Bruegel I. Furthermore, the early work by Hans Bol should be mentioned as a significant source for Bril's work. The prints made by Cornelis Cort after designs by Girolamo Muziano were another significant source of inspiration. The tree types, the craggy rock formations and also the relation of the small figures to energetically rendered landscape in Cort's prints after Muziano are similar to those in this painting. Typical for Bril's early work are the strong local colours and the great attention to minute detail. The almost tangible rays of light are a feature often encountered in Bril's early work. Due to the excellent state of conservation of this oil on copper, these features and the delicate handling can be appreciated in full. In subsequent years Bril's landscape developed towards a more monumental rendering of landscape elements.

The figure of Saint Jerome is not a rare feature in Bril's art. In 1610 he painted a landscape on canvas with the anchorite (Madrid, Museo del Prado). The painting was purchased by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, who partially overpainted the work and transformed the subject into Psyche and Jupiter in the guise of an eagle. The figure of Saint Jerome, today only visible with X-rays, is painted in the same pose as the one in this painting (L. Pijl, 'Paintings by Paul Bril in collaboration with Rottenhammer, Elsheimer and Rubens', The Burlington Magazine, CXL, 1998, pp. 660-7, figs. 9-11). Compared to the Prado canvas in its original state, this copper panel shows much more attention to detail - for example, in the lion and the donkey looming in the dark shadows behind the anchorite and dromedaries referring to Asia Minor where Jerome spent most of his life.

The date 1592 inscribed at the back can be considered with confidence as the date of execution, since it tallies perfectly with other dated works from the period. For example, a picture dated 1593 in a Belgian private collection is stylistically very similar to the present painting (Cappelletti, op. cit., no. 16). In addition, a little-known painting which can be dated 1592-93, still in the Colonna collection in Rome, is very strongly related in conception and execution (Cappelletti, op. cit., no. 32, reproduced in colour, p. 83).

A study in chalk and pen in the Uffizi (inv. no. 662P; fig. 1) shows Bril's initial ideas for the composition, with his original working out of the landscape and the position of the Saint. It is very rare that a preparatory drawing for a painting by Bril has come down to us. For a long time these sketches were not considered worth collecting and the lion's share of them is not preserved.

Paul Bril's Saint Jerome on copper belongs to the period when he was acquainted with Jan Brueghel the Elder, who spent his formative years in Italy (circa 1589-1595). The works by Bril and Brueghel from the 1590s are very comparable in their refined execution and strong local colours. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this picture was considered a work by Brueghel while in the collection of the Earl of Winterton. Jan Brueghel's own fine Saint Jerome, also on a copper support, dated 1597, today in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, shows that he was familiar with Paul Bril's paintings of this type, as well as with Muziano's work via the prints by Cort.

We are grateful to Dr. Luuk Pijl for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs, recto and verso, and for kindly supplying the above entry. The superlative quality of this copper, the earliest dated easel painting by the artist, reappearing on the market for the first time in nearly half a century, can be compared to that of the Landscape with Tobit, Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, of similar dimensions and support, sold at Sotheby's, London, 7 July 2010, lot 34 (£713,250).

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