Pieter Coecke van Aelst

and the painters of the Breug(h)el Family

Holy Trinity
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Clicko see the enlargment

Journey to Constantinople
One of the most remarkable documents of contact between the peoples of northern Europe and the Ottoman Empire is the series of 10 woodcuts, comprising seven scenes, designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst during his trip to Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1533. The drawings were later published by his widow Mayken Verhulst as woodcut illustrations in "Les Moeurs et Façons des Turcs" (The Manners and Customs of the Turks, 1553). source: University of Kansas. Click on picture to see the whole series.

The Entry of Jeruzalem, Workshop of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Antwerp ± 1535. Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht.

A selection of the famous tapestries of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, a pupil of Bernard van Orley, can be seen on the next page.

Most pictures on this page can bee seen in larger format by clicking on them.

"The Virgin with the Cushion" by Pieter Coecke d'Alost (as he is named in French).

Pieter Coecke van Aelst

(b: Aelst, now Aalst, 14 Aug 1502; d: Brussels, 6 Dec 1550), son of the Deputy Mayor of the village of Aelst, was a leading Antwerp artist, sculptor, architect, and designer of tapestry and stained glass. He entered the Antwerp Guild in 1527. He was married twice, first to Anna van Dornicke (d 1529), the daughter of the Antwerp painter Jan Mertens, who may have been his teacher; they had two children, Michel van Coecke and Pieter van Coecke II (before 1527- 59), the latter of whom became a painter. He later married Mayken Verhulst, herself a painter and the mother of three children, Pauwel, Katelijne and Maria (Mayken). Pieter Bruegel the Elder, generally considered the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century, was said one of his apprentices, but there is no trace of Coecke's influence in his work. Bruegel married van Aelst's daughter Mayken in 1563. Her mother, Mayken Verhulst (daughter of a little-known painter in Mechelen) is credited with having taught the technique of painting "in tempera" on cloth to her son-in-law. Mayken Verhulst is best known for miniatures, she was described by Lodovico Guicciardini in 1567 as one of the five principal female painters in the Netherlands.

The Breug(h)els
Pieter Breugel's association with the van Aelst family drew him to the artistic traditions of the Mechelen region in which allegorical and peasant themes run strongly (see below column). Through his sons Jan and Pieter, he became the ancestor of a dynasty of painters that survived into the 18th century. Pieter Brueghel the Younger, the "peasant Bruegel" (1564-1638) was the elder of two sons also known as "Hell Brueghel" because of his fascination with hobgoblins, fires, and grotesque figures. He made his career in Antwerp, where he became a master in the guild in 1585. He is also known as a copyist of his father's paintings, as they were both popular and scarce.
His son, Pieter Brueghel III (1589-?1640), was also known primarily as a copyist.
Jan Breugel (1568-1625), called the "velvet Brueghel" or "the Elder", made his career in Antwerp too. Known for his still lifes of flowers and for his landscapes, he was a friend of Peter Paul Rubens. His style was perpetuated by his sons Jan Brueghel II (1601-78) and Ambrosius Brueghel (1617-75), whose sons carried on the tradition into the 18th century.Jan's daughter Anna married David Teniers II , father of the more famous David III the Younger.

See here for the Family Tree of Pieter Coecke and his descendants.

"Adoration des Mages"
by Pieter Coecke van Aelst

Triptiek "Aanbidding van de Koningen"
Triptique "l'Adoration des Mages"
Courtesy Galerie De Jonckheere, Paris, Brussel
Click on picture or <here> to enlarge.

The Agony in the Garden, 1527-30
State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Detail of a painting originally found in the Monastary of the Sisters of Saint Franciscus in 's-Hertogenbosch. Now in the collection of the Museum of Religious Art in Uden

Prodigal Son, about 1530, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Sacrifice at Lystra, about 1534,
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Pieter Coecke van Aelst captured the distress of Saint Paul and Barnabas upon discovering that the people of the city of Lystra, to whom they preached the gospel, had begun to worship them as pagan gods, calling Barnabas Jupiter and Paul Mercury. Coecke produced the drawing as a cartoon for one of nine tapestries on the life of Saint Paul.

La Cène, painting on wood, 1532. Galerie Claude Vittet

'Hunters in the Snow', 'Peasant Wedding' and 'Peasant Dance' are in the collection of 14 paintings by Bruegel in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, in Vienna, which comprises nearly one third of his surviving paintings; the other are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the National Gallery, Prague.
Click on the paintings to go to the site of the Kunsthistoriches Museum

Jan Brueghel the Elder, the "velvet Breughel".

Pieter Brueghel the Elder,
The Painter and the Buyer, Albertina, Vienna

Pieter Breugel the Elder
He was probably born in Breda in the Duchy of Brabant, now in The Netherlands. Accepted as a master in the Antwerp painters' guild in 1551. In 1563, the same year he married van Aelst's daughter Mayken, he painted two depictions of Babel: The 'Little' Tower of Babel (Oil on panel, 60 x 74.5 cm; Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and the Tower of Babel (Oil on oak panel, 114 x 155 cm; Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna). Bruegel had visited Rome and based his Tower of Babel on the Colosseum. He painted the tower as an immense structure occupying almost the entire picture space, with tiny figures rendered in perfect detail, going about their daily business. The top floors of the tower are bright red, whereas the rest of the brickwork has already started to weather. Bruegel developed an original style that uniformly holds narrative meaning. His subject matter ranged widely, from conventional Biblical scenes and parables of Christ to mythological portrayals such as Landscape with the Fall of Icarus; religious allegories in the style of Hieronymus Bosch; and social satires. But it was in nature that he found his greatest inspiration. His mountain landscapes have few parallels in European art, and have remained consistently popular.

Links to further reading on Brueghel:

The Tower of Babel
1563, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna

André Parrot [The Tower of Babel, Delachaux et Niestlé, 1954] reports that more than seven thousand people are represented on the 30 inch by 24 inch canvas of the second painting above. On the same scale as those figures, he points out, "the tower must have risen to a height of some 300 yards!"

David Teniers the Younger, Members of the Antwerp Town Council and Masters of the Armaments Guild, The Hermitage, St. Petersbourg

The Census in Bethlehem
Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Brussel
Musée de Beaux Arts, Bruxelles

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, The Census in Bethlehem,
Bonnenfanten Museum, Maastricht

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