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Jan van Kessel the Elder

Flemish, 1626 - 1679

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Jan van Kessel, born in 1626 in Antwerp, was the son of Hieronymus van Kessel the Younger (1578-after 1636), a successful portrait and figure painter, and Paschasia Brueghel, daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder. In 1634/1635 he registered in the Antwerp Saint Luke's Guild as a pupil of the history painter Simon de Vos (1603-1676), becoming a master in his own right in 1644. He was apparently also instructed by his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678), who, in 1646, had Van Kessel make copies of his paintings.

On 11 June 1647 Van Kessel married Maria van Apshoven, at which time Van Kessel's uncle, David Teniers the Younger, served as a witness. In 1655 Van Kessel bought a house, De Witte en de Rode Roos (The White and Red Rose), which was situated across from the Sint-Joriskerkhof (Saint George Cemetery) in Antwerp. The couple had thirteen children, two of whom became painters: Ferdinand (1648-1696), who continued to paint in his father's style, and Jan the Younger (1654-1708), who became a portrait painter for King Charles II in Spain. Although Van Kessel had a productive career and, as a captain in the Civic Guard, was a citizen of some importance in Antwerp, he had numerous debts when he died in 1679.

Throughout his career Van Kessel painted within the artistic tradition of his grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, although he was also inspired by the scientific naturalism of Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600). His small-scale, brightly colored, and minutely detailed paintings on panel or copper were highly regarded by connoisseurs and princely collectors. Van Kessel is most renowned for his depictions of flowers, insects, and animals, both living and dead, but he also painted shells, armor, and still lifes of fruit, bouquets, and garlands. He frequently collaborated with figure painters, among them Erasmus Quellinus (1607-1678) and David Teniers the Younger. Van Kessel also painted a number of allegorical subjects, including representations of the Five Senses, the Four Elements, and the Four Continents. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Houbraken, Arnold. De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen. 3 vols. in 1. The Hague, 1753 (Reprint: Amsterdam, 1976): 2:139-140; 3:238.
Rombouts, Philippe Félix, and Theodoor Frans Xavier van Lerius. De Liggeren en andere historische archieven der Antwerpsche Sint Lucasgilde. 2 vols. Antwerp and The Hague, 1864-1876: 2:62, 65, 155, 162, 467 (reprint Amsterdam, 1961).
Edited by Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart 1907-1950, 20(1927): 201-202.
Bie, Cornelis de. Het gulden cabinet van de edel vry schilderconst. Edited by Gerard Lemmens. Reprint of Antwerp, 1661/1662. Soest, 1971: 409-411.
Bruegel. Une dynastie de peintres. Exh. cat. Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1980: 313-315.
Greindl, Edith. Les peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle. Brussels, 1983: 156-162, 365-368.
Hairs, Marie-Louise. The Flemish Flower Painters in the XVIIth Century. Trans. Eva Grzelak. Brussels, 1985: 287-300, 483-485.
Sutton, Peter C., and Marjorie E. Wieseman, et al. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Boston, 1993: 512.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 119.

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