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Abraham Brueghel[1] (baptised November 28, 1631 – c. 1690) was a Flemish painter from the famous Brueghel family of artists. He emigrated at a young age to Italy where he played an important role in the development of the style of decorative Baroque still lifes.

Early life

Abraham was born in Antwerp, the son of Jan Brueghel the Younger, the grandson of Jan Brueghel the Elder and the great-grandson of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Much of his artistic training came from his father Jan Brueghel the Younger, prolific painter and regular collaborator with Rubens. Abraham showed great promise as an artist from an early age, and started to make a name for himself in his teenage years. His father sold one of Abraham's floral still lives when he was only 15 years old.[2]

Move to Italy
Woman grasping fruits

In 1649, at the age of 18, Abraham went to Italy to complete a commission for Prince Antonio Ruffo in Sicily. It was the first of many commissions in which Abraham demonstrated his artistic abilities in drawing floral still lifes. Already in 1649 an inventory of his patron Prince Antonio Ruffo records nine flower paintings by the 18-year-old artist.[3]

Ten years later, in 1659, Brueghel moved to Rome, Italy where he married an Italian woman less than a year later. In 1670 he was invited into the Accademia di San Luca, a Roman academy, which had as its objective the elevation of the work of artists.

Abraham joined the Bentvueghels, an association of mainly Dutch and Flemish artists working in Rome. It was customary for the Bentvueghels to adopt an appealing nickname, the so-called 'bent name'. He was given the bent name Rijngraaf, meaning 'duke of the Rhine', which was an old aristocratic title in Germany. When Abraham Genoels joined the Bentvueghels in 1670, Abraham Brueghel signed the bentbrief as "Abraham Breugel".[4]

Some time between 1672 and 1675, Abraham left Rome and moved to Naples, Italy. He played an important role in the development of still life painting in Naples, which had before his arrival in the city resisted the Flemish-Roman style of decorative still lifes.[5]

Breughel remained in Naples until his death. He is believed to have died c. 1690 in Naples and in any event no later than 1697.[2]

A still life of fruit and flowers on an acanthus stone relief

Abraham Brueghel established a reputation for his still lifes and in particular, floral still lives. One hunting still life signed and dated by him is known.[2] Due to lack of evolution during the artist’s mature period and the scarcity of dated works, it is difficult to establish a chronology of Abraham’s artistic development. His brushstrokes were generally slightly more painterly during his Roman period, while his colouring became brighter and stronger during his later years.[3]

The increasingly lush still lifes of the Flemish painters Frans Snyders, Jan Fyt and Pieter Boel who had also worked in Italy were the principal influences on Abraham Brueghel.[3] Joannes Hermans, another Flemish painter in Rome also painted grandiose still lifes combining human figures, flowers and fruit, which anticipated the arrival in Rome in 1653 of Abraham Brueghel.[6] Brueghel combined the Flemish preference for decorative profusion and anecdote with the sweeping movement of the Italian High Baroque of his Italian contemporaries, such as Michele Pace del Campidoglio and Michelangelo Cerquozzi. The result of the complementary influences were compositions that appear casual, while maintaining strong composition and clarity of detail.[3]

Still life of fruits and flowers with a figure

Abraham Brueghel is especially known for his still life paintings of southern fruits and flowers, which were typically assembled in front of a landscape. They are frequently enhanced by a precious vase, an antique monument or fragments of Roman sculpture. His cartouches are heavier and more decorative.[7]

He painted his own landscapes but the staffage in his paintings was painted by well-known Italian painters, such as Carlo Maratta, Giovanni Battista Gaulli and Giacinto Brandi.[8] A few collaborations between Abraham Brueghel and Guillaume Courtois, a French painter active in Rome, are recorded. An example is the Still life of fruits and flowers with a figure (Sold at Sotheby's on 29 January 2015 in New York, lot 302). The still life was painted by Brueghel while Courtois painted the figure. The painting is a variant of the Grapes and pomegranate with a vase of flowers and a female figure (private collection), which has been dated to the end of the 1660s.[9]

Family tree

Brueghel family tree

Bouquet of flowers in a vase in bronze

Alternative spellings of his family name: Breugel, Breughel, Briegel, Bruegel; also called: 'Brueghel, il Napolitano' and nickname: 'Rijngraaf' or 'Ringraaf'
Abraham Brueghel at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (in Dutch)
Abraham Brueghel, A still life of a watermelon, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, pomegranates and figs, with lilies, roses, morning glory and other flowers on an acanthus stone relief Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine at Colnaghi
Abraham Breugel, Ryngraaf in Arnold Houbraken's Schouwburg, Volume 2, p 351 (in Dutch)
John T. Spike, Italian still life paintings from three centuries, National Academy of Design (U.S.), Philbrook Art Center, Dayton Art Institute, Centro Di, 1983, p. 16-17
Natura viva, Coppia di dipinti ad olio su tela attribuiti a Joannes Hermans at the Associaz Cultur. Antonello Governale (in Italian)
Marie-Louise Hairs, Dominique Finet, The Flemish Flower Painters in the XVIIth Century, International Specialized Book Service Incorporated, 1985, p. 248
Abraham Brueghel on Hadrianus
Still life of fruits and flowers with a figure at Sotheby's


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