Jacob Jordaens
Biography/Paintings of Flemish Baroque Genre Painter.

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The Bean King (c.1638)
Hermitage, St Petersburg.

Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)


Early Life
Painting Style and Genre Scenes
Selected Paintings

For details of the pigments
used by Jacob Jordaens
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

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One of the most long-lived of Old Masters in Flanders, Jacob Jordaens was an important figure in Flemish painting who often assisted Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) with his large-scale paintings. After the death of Rubens he became the leading Flemish Baroque painter in Antwerp. His early works show the influence of Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) as well as the classical style of Rubens, yet his painting technique and subject matter was much more earthbound than that of Rubens. He painted with thick impasto and today is mostly associated with large-scale genre paintings depicting boisterous peasants in the manner of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-69). Jordaens was at his best in these less ambitious works. In addition, he was also a fine exponent of portrait art and an accomplished tapestry designer. In 1655 he converted to Protestantism (Calvinism), and his paintings became cooler in colour and more moralizing in subject matter. One of the most popular Flemish painters of his time, his best Baroque paintings include The King Drinks (c.1640, Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels), while other large-scale works include The Ferry at Antwerp (c.1623, Copenhagen Art Museum) and Triumph of Prince Fredrick Hendrik of Orange (1651-2, Huis ten Bosch, The Hague).



Early Life

Jordaens was born in 1593 in Antwerp. Little is known of his early life but that he came from a wealthy family so we can assume he received some education. Like Rubens, he was apprenticed to Adam van Noort (c.1561-1641), the Flemish painter, etcher and draughtsman, who would later become his father-in-law. After 8 years of training with van Noort, Jordaens became a Master of the Antwerp Painters Guild in 1615, specialising in wall-hangings in watercolour. This technique was often used in the 17th century to make preparatory coloured cartoons for tapestry design. Given the delicate nature of the medium, few of these survive today. In 1621 Jordaens was elected Dean of the Guild.


His first commissions came from local churchmen and tradesmen, although eventually he received orders from the nobility and rulers throughout Europe. Unlike his contemporaries, Jordaens did not make the usual artistic pilgrimage to Italy, and instead seemed content to study Renaissance art through prints which were distributed in Northern Europe. He became familiar with the works of Italian Mannerist artists like Jacopo Bassano (1510-92) and Paolo Veronese (1528-88), as well as the notorious Caravaggio (1571-1610). At the same time he established a large workshop, taking on a considerable amount of pupils, and from 1625 onwards many of his paintings were completed with the help of those pupils. His early style borrowed much from Rubens, including Rubens' warm palette tone, naturalism and a mastery of tenebrism and chiaroscuro. Indeed Rubens often employed Jordaens to reproduce his smaller sketches onto a larger format for him.

Painting Style and Genre Scenes

Although Jordaens continued to borrow motifs and subject matter from Rubens, his painting from 1625 onwards displayed a growing realism. In addition, he also tended to crowd his works with figures, sometimes verging on the burlesque, even in his lofty religious art. Examples include his Ferry Boat to Antwerp (c.1623, Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), Allegory of Fertility (c.1622, Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels) and The Four Evangelists (c.1625, Louvre, Paris).

During this time, he also began to explore genre painting, depicting Flemish festivals, feasts and proverbs, in a similar manner to Bruegel, as well as Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38), Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85) and other exponents of the Dutch Realist genre painting idiom. His painterly style is exemplified by his painting The King Drinks (c.1640, Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels) - although more than one version of this painting exists. The tightly packed canvas depicts a group of citizens celebrating Epiphany, a day when traditionally one person gets to be King and all the others must serve him. Boisterous and soaked with liquor, Jordaens uses the painting to sermonize about the evil of drink. He inscribed a note into the painting: 'Nothing seems more a like a madman than a drunkard'.

Another similar painting (several versions also in existence) is his As the Old Sang, So the Young Pipe (c.1638-40, Louvre) - a similarly crowded painting in which the adults sing, drink and eat, while the children accompany them playing the pipe. The moral of the story being of course, that parents should be aware of the signal that their drunken actions are sending to the young. These didactic themes became more frequent subject matter as the artist became older and especially after he converted to Calvinism in 1655. Also his palette became cooler, his use of paint thinned and his brushwork became more restrained. Fortunately, this change in style and subject matter fitted well with new artistic trends which were being imported from France at the time. Despite rarely leaving his native Antwerp he received a number of important commissions from several Royal Courts in Northern Europe. He died in 1678 at the age of 84.



Selected Paintings

Jacob Jordaens' output included oil painting - canvases as well as altarpiece panels - watercolour wall-hangings, tapestry designs and a quantity of engravings, a number of which are on display in museums and churches throughout Antwerp, and in some of the best art museums in Europe and North America. Here is a short selection of some of his paintings.

- Portrait of the Artist's Family in a Garden (c.1621) Prado, Madrid.
- Allegory of Fertility (c.1622) Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels.
- The Ferry at Antwerp (c.1623) Copenhagen Art Museum.
- Pan with a Syrinx (c.1625) Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels.
- The Four Evangelists (c.1625) Louvre, Paris.
- Hunter with His Dogs (1635) Museum of Fine Art, Lille.
- The Bean King (c.1638) Hermitage, St Petersburg.
- As the Old Sang, So the Young Pipe (c.1638-40) Louvre, Paris.
- The King Drinks (c.1640) Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels.
- Neptune Creates the Horse (c.1640-50) Palazzo Pitti, Florence.
- Portrait of a 73-year-old Man (1641) Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
- Jesus Driving the Merchants from the Temple (1645-50) Louvre, Paris.
- The Supper at Emmaus (c.1645/65) National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
- The Lamentation (c.1650) Kunsthalle, Hamburg.
- Cupid and Sleeping Nymphs (c.1650) Kiev Museum of Western Art.
- The Triumph of Prince Fredrick Hendrik of Orange (1651-2, Huis ten Bosch)
- The Rape of Europe (1652) Museum of Fine Art, Lille.
- The 12-Year Old Jesus Among the Priests (1663) Landesmuseum, Mainz.

• For more biographical details about famous Flemish painters, see: Homepage.
• For an evaluation of important pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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