Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626 - 1679). Jan van Kessel the Elder or Jan van Kessel was a Flemish painter active in Antwerp in the mid 17th century. A versatile artist he practised in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes. A scion of the Brueghel family many of his subjects took inspiration of the work of his grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder as well as from the earlier generation of Flemish painters such as Daniel Seghers, Joris Hoefnagel and Frans Snyders. Van Kessel's works were highly prized by his contemporaries and were collected by skilled artisans, wealthy merchants, nobles and foreign luminaries throughout Europe. Jan van Kessel the Elder was born in Antwerp as the son of Hieronymus van Kessel the Younger and Paschasia Brueghel. He was thus Jan Brueghel the Elder's grandson, Pieter Bruegel the Elder's great-grandson and the nephew of Jan Brueghel the Younger. His direct ancestors in the van Kessel family line were his grandfather Hieronymus van Kessel the Elder and his father Hieronymus van Kessel the Younger, who were both painters. Very little is known about the work of these van Kessel ancestors. At the age of only 9, Jan van Kessel was sent to study with the history painter Simon de Vos. He further trained with family members who were artists. He was a pupil of his father and his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger. In 1644 he became a member of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke where he was recorded as a blomschilder. He married Maria van Apshoven on 11 June 1646. The couple had 13 children of whom two, Jan and Ferdinand, were trained by him and became successful painters. He was captain of a local schutterij in Antwerp. Jan van Kessel was financially successful as his works commanded high prices and were widely collected at home and throughout Europe. He bought in 1656 a house called the Witte en Roode Roos in central Antwerp. By the time his wife died in 1678 his fortune seems to have turned for the worse. In 1679 he had to mortgage his house. He had become too ill to paint and died on 17 April 1679 in Antwerp. He trained other painters and also his own family members. His pupils included his sons Jan and Ferdinand. Jan van Kessel the Elder was a versatile artist who practised in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes. His dated works range from 1648 to 1676. Attribution of work to Jan van Kessel the Elder has been difficult due to confusion with other artists with a similar name all active around the same time. In addition to his son Jan, there was another Antwerp painter with the name Jan van Kessel who painted still lifes, while in Amsterdam there was a Jan van Kessel known as a landscape painter. To complicate things further, while he is usually referred to as Jan van Kessel I since he had an uncle also called Jan van Kessel he is sometimes referred to as Jan van Kessel II and his son Jan van Kessel the Younger as Jan van Kessel III. Another problem for attributions has been the fact that Jan van Kessel the Elder used two different styles of signature on his work. He used a cursive, more decorative signature for larger formats, which would have been difficult to read in a smaller painting. This practice lead to the erroneous assumption that these works were made by two different painters. Jan van Kessel specialized in small-scale pictures of subjects gleaned from the natural world such as floral still lifes and allegorical series showing animal kingdoms, the four elements, the senses, or the parts of the world. Obsessed with picturesque detail, van Kessel worked from nature and used illustrated scientific texts as sources for filling his pictures with objects represented with almost scientific accuracy. Jan van Kessel produced a great number of studies of animals such as insects, caterpillars and reptiles as well as images of flowers and rare objects from all over the known world. He showed himself to be a keen observer and his animal studies were praised in his day for their meticulousness and precision. His work in this field reflects the contemporary worldview in which the appreciation of art and nature went hand in hand. That same desire to collect and categorize the natural world, which had given impetus to the creation of the Kunstkammern and Wunderkammern in the late 16th and 17th century, inspired the artists of the day to achieve the same in painted form. Jan van Kessel's grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder had already demonstrated in his work how artists, starting from empirical observation, could represent the world through ordering and classifying its many elements. An i
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