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Paulus Bril (Antwerp 1554-Rome 1626)

A Landscape with Goatherds c.1620

RCIN 403033

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Paul Bril was born in Antwerp, where he trained with his father Mattheus Bril the Elder (1550-83). In 1574 he travelled via Lyons to Rome, where he remained (apart from a brief visit to Naples in 1602) for over fifty years until his death in 1626. Bril created many decorative landscape schemes in fresco for palaces and chapels as well as producing small landscapes, often as here on copper. He was a respected figure, rising to the position of Principe of the Accademia di San Luca, who befriended generations of northern artists working in Rome, including Jan Brueghel, Adam Elsheimer and Rubens. More than any other artist, Paul Bril laid the foundations for the great tradition of landscape painting created in Rome during the seventeenth century by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin and by the group of artists sometimes called the 'Dutch Italianates'.

Like Elsheimer, Bril here seeks to create a vast terrain within the tiny compass of a copper the size of a postcard. He uses several devices, which were much imitated. The colours range schematically from brown for the foreground, to green for the middle ground and blue for the distance, in order to suggest depth. The planes are arranged in a way described by an English contemporary, Edward Norgate:

'Yet one generall rule I had from my old freind, Paulo Brill, which hee said will make a Lanscape Caminare, that is move or walke away, and that is by placing Darke against Light, and light against Darke. His meaning is best understood by Circumlocution viz. that what part of your landscape soever is light, the next adiacent ground to be proportionably darke, or shadowed, and that againe seconded with light, and then shady againe, till you come to the nearest ground, where all ends with strong and darke shadowes, to sett of all the rest.'

This impression of space is achieved by sacrificing the kind of anecdotal foreground seen in the work of Jan Brueghel. This landscape is certainly no idyll: contrary to myth, the Roman campagna was a hot and relatively barren terrain in the seventeenth century.

On the reverse of the panel there is an incised inscription Paulo with the sign of the spectacles used by Bril as a form of signature.

Catalogue entry adapted from Bruegel to Rubens: Masters of Flemish Painting, London, 2007