What I love about today’s image, Village scene with village well, by Joos de Momper (Josse) and credited also to Jan Brueghel II as a collaboration, is the sneaky sense of humor shown by the artists. When one looks closely, the cows are sturdy and lean with sweet eyes, and the birds flying above are fat, incredibly happy birds, as are the geese and ducks in the small pond.
The people, on the other hand, are clearly peasants, homely and sun-brown from a life spent working hard. They’re not nearly as lovely as their cattle. One can tell men from women only by their clothes.
The women do their laundry with determined efficiency, irritated at being interrupted in their work. What has the man asked for? We will never know, but the woman is going to let him have it, along with a piece of her mind.
I have spent much of the last two years immersing myself in 16th and 17th century Flemish and Netherlandish art and the culture of the times. They had an immense capacity for irreverent humor, inspired by the rough and tumble tavern culture the artists often gravitated to. They were known for sneaking their opinions and jokes into their work. I have a great fondness for the Brueghel family in particular and have studied their work at length—but I admit I am an amateur art-looker, not a trained expert.
Still, in my opinion, if Jan Brueghel II was involved in this painting, it was minimal. He was extraordinarily detail oriented and there are few fine details in this painting – but they are there, and I will show you where to look. The faces of the people are lumpy and nearly featureless, as if their faces didn’t matter. Overall, the impression of detail is there from a distance, but when looked at closely, the detail disappears.
The shapes of the cow’s eyes and the swirls that form the geese were done with a light, almost flippant brush – also not JB II’s later style. When I look at the pretty cattle, the lushness of the fat birds, and the hard, weather-browned homeliness of the peasants, I can only think that subtle comedic juxtaposition was intentional.
As I said above, upon closer inspection, this painting is whimsical and not one I would have ascribed to Jan Brueghel II, even though he is listed as one of the artists. This painting is most definitely not his usual heavy, highly detailed baroque style. I can find little in it that I would associate with his deliberate, precise brushwork and rich, saturated colors.
Instead, overall we have a happy, friendly view of a village, impressionistic in a way that Monet might recognize.
I believe the art historians have a reason for their assumption. If JB II did collaborate here, it was very early in his career, before he developed his own style and is based on this evidence: The barrels and the wheelbarrow are different, clear and not impressionistic. Beside them, the well is a blob, an unfinished shape indicating a well. The pans, barrels, and wheelbarrow are defined and perfect in their detail, alien objects dropped into this dreamscape. They were done by a different hand than the rest of the painting.
The trees and the landscape look much like those that appear in his father’s work, and we know de Momper collaborated frequently with Jan Brueghel the Elder in his workshop.
It maybe that the boy, Jan Brueghel the Younger, collaborated with de Momper on this piece in his father’s workshop, painting the small things in the lower right-hand corner as part of his training. But I suspect this is largely the work of one artist, an elderly artist, no longer in his prime and nearing the end of his working life, Joos (Josse) de Momper.
About the Artist: (Via Wikipedia) Joos (Josse) de Momper, (1564–1635) was one of the foremost Flemish landscape painters between Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens. Brueghel’s influence is clearly evident in many of de Momper’s paintings
He primarily painted landscapes, the genre for which he was highly regarded during his lifetime. Only a small number of the 500 paintings attributed to de Momper are signed and just one is dated. The large output points to substantial workshop participation. He often collaborated with figure painters such as Frans Francken II, Peter Snayers, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Jan Brueghel the Younger, usually on large, mountainous landscapes, whereby the other painters painted the staffage (humans and animals) and de Momper the landscape.
He painted both fantasy landscapes, viewed from a high vantage point and employing a conventional Mannerist color transition of brown in the foreground to green and finally blue in the background, and more realistic landscapes with a lower viewpoint and more natural colors. His wide panoramas also feature groups of small figures.
Credits and Attributions:
Village scene with village well, by Josse de Momper, Jan Brueghel II, PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:D%C3%B6rfliche_Szene_am_Ziehbrunnen_(Josse_de_Momper,_Jan_Brueghel_II).jpg (accessed October 26, 2018).
Wikipedia contributors, “Joos de Momper,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joos_de_Momper&oldid=861006304 (accessed October 26, 2018).