Jan Brueghel the Younger was the son of Jan Brueghel the Elder (also known as “Velvet Brueghel”), by whom he was considerably influenced. Brueghel the Younger became well known for his landscapes, allegories, religious subjects, flower pieces and still lifes. Born in Antwerp in 1601, he received his earliest training from his father. In 1622, Brueghel visited Milan with an introduction to Cardinal Federico Borromeo, an important friend and patron of his father. He subsequently visited Genoa and Palermo. At the beginning of 1625, he learned of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s death, and returned to Antwerp in order to take over his studio.
Brueghel the Younger became a master of the Guild of St. Luke in 1625, and married the daughter of the painter Abraham Janssens in 1626. He became a Dean of the Chamber of Rhetoric in 1630. During this period he was also appointed Dean of the Painter’s Guild. Like his father, Brueghel the Younger often collaborated on paintings with other artists, including Henrik van Balen, Peter Paul Rubens, and Josse de Momper. Moreover, he was often responsible for the ornamentation in paintings by Rubens, Jansens and van Balen.
In our composition, A Concert of Birds, Brueghel has created a visual puzzle for the viewer to solve. Both technically and artistically it is a small masterpiece of the very highest quality. It probably derives from a lost prototype by Jan Brueghel I. Several of the birds in this painting can be found in Jan Brueghel I’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, painted in collaboration with Rubens, and also in a study of birds by Jan Brueghel II, which was doubtless based on examples by his father. It is a prime example of Brueghel’s keen observation and lively rendering of natural forms. A Concert of Birds is a small world complete in and of itself, towards which the viewer’s eye gravitates and is led inexorably within.
A large group of birds, owls, parrots, pelicans, swans and numerous other birds are gathered in and around an old tree next to an idyllic lake scene. The animals and plants in the foreground are articulated with thicker paint than the ones in the background. Thus, Brueghel’s description of the latter is significantly less detailed, creating a greater overall sense of atmosphere. In the left side of the painting, next to the tree, we find an open music book that functions as the center of attention for the birds that gather around both on the ground and peeking down from the treetop.