The infinite depth of Paul Bril
In March 2013, the Mauritshuis acquired a small landscape by the Flemish painter Paul Bril (1553/54-1626). His Mountainous Landscape with Saint Jerome (1592) depicts a magnificent, panoramic mountain landscape full of colour and captivating detail.
Paul Bril was born in the city of Breda in the south of the Netherlands and trained as a painter in Antwerp. When he was about 22 years of age, he travelled to Rome, where he would remain for the rest of his life. There, he became the most influential landscape painter of his day, making a great impression with his large fresco cycles, but later also painting works on a small scale. This painting is probably the first of his small landscapes. It is also the first that Bril painted on copper, a smooth material eminently suited to painting small details.
The painting shows an imaginary landscape characteristic of the landscapes Flemish artists produced in the sixteenth century. It depicts the Holy Land with mountains and a valley through which a river winds its way. Shepherds watch over their grazing sheep, while a caravan of camels crosses the bridge. Saint Jerome, who appears at the left, has retreated from the world in penitence with only a lion for company.
Bril has painted the landscape in meticulous detail with birds, butterflies and a salamander. It almost seems possible to make out individual leaves on the trees. But the true subject is really the landscape itself. It transitions from brown in the foreground, via green to blue and white on the horizon, suggesting infinite depth.
The acquisition of this painting was made possible with the support of the BankGiro Lottery, the Rembrandt Association (thanks to its A.M. Roeters van Lennep Fund) and a private benefactor.
The painting is on display in the Masterpieces from the Mauritshuis exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.