This luminous composition, in magnificent state, is an early work from the hand of Jan Breughel II. Known for years as part of a private Belgian collection, scholars were first able to examine the work in 1991, when it was sold in Christie's Monaco. Upon examination, Dr. Klaus Ertz determined that the signature, and its distinctive treatment of the letters 'VE' and 'GH', clearly indicate that the painting is the work of Jan Breughel the Younger.
The exact dating of this picture has been difficult due to the rubbing of the crucial third number in the signature '16*5'; Dr. Ertz believes it is most likely that the number initially painted was a 2. This date of 1625 represents a seminal moment in the life of Jan Breughel the Younger. Having trained in his father's studio, he left for Milan in the early 1620s to see his father's great patron Cardinal Frederico Borromeo. By 1624, he was in Sicily and Rome with his boyhood friend Anthony van Dyck. A cholera outbreak in Antwerp in early 1625 killed his father and forced the young Breughel to return to Antwerp, where by August he had begun to operate the family workshop. It is in this context that Ertz believes this panel was created.
Jan Breughel the Younger's talent at painting verdant forest scenes is here explored in the masses of greenery that insulate and divide the animals. To the left, the waters of the flood are prefigured by the marshy swamp and its winding tributary, leading to the waiting ark in the blue hazy distance, atmospherically rendered in shades of blue. Birds fill the skies and await their commands on the bare tree to the left, disturbed only by the pair of dogs who bark at them. To the right, exotic animals reflect Jan the Elder's time at the Court of Archduke Albert VII of Austria, by whom he was employed from 1608 until his death. The Archduke amassed a menagerie which gave Breughel unprecedented knowledge of the animals depicted. Jan the Younger's assured brushstroke and bravura palette bring life to the playful animals. Noah and his family, subsumed by the enormity and lushness of the scene, prepare for the journey in a central grassy plain.
The composition is derived from the panel by Jan Breughel the Elder, also called 'Paradise Breughel', in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, painted in 1613. Ertz acknowledges at least three other versions of this scene by the hand of Jan the Younger, all smaller and undated (K. Ertz, Jan Breughel F.J., Luca, 1984, nos. 97, 98, 99). The biggest of these is on canvas in the Prado, Madrid, and another on panel is in the Staatlichtes Museum, Dessau; the third version was last recorded in the Lazaro collection, Madrid, in 1927. The vibrancy of the colors and beauty of technique in this particular panel lend a freshness not seen in any other version.