Today is Parents’ Day, so this week’s picture is a portrait of two proud parents with their children: The Family of Jan Bruegel the Elder, by Peter Paul Rubens. Like Rubens, Bruegel was a painter. The two men knew each other well, so the picture reproduced on this page was almost certainly done as a personal favour.

The work remained in the collection of the Brueghel family until the 1650s, when it passed into the ownership of another well known Flemish painter, David Teniers the Younger – a testament to the close relationships that existed between the leading artists of seventeenth-century Antwerp. In the twentieth century the painting was bought by Count Antoine Seilern, an English-born Middle European aristocrat, of Austrian descent, who built up one of the most remarkable collections of Old Master painting in Britain during the course of his long and eventful life. Big-game hunter, qualified pilot, racehorse breeder and lifelong philanthropist, Seilern bequeathed his collection, on his death in 1978, to the Courtauld Institute. So it is that The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder can be seen, together with many other masterpieces acquired by Seilern, at the Courtauld Institute Galleries in Somerset House, London.


Rubens was the most celebrated Northern European artist of his day. Painter to the courts of Europe, he was famous as the creator of vast and magnificent cycles of allegorical canvases designed to glorify his princely patrons. But as this modest, heartfelt picture demonstrates, he could also be an artist of great warmth and humanity. He was a particularly good friend to Jan Brueghel the Elder, who like Rubens himself had been employed on several trips to Italy as an ambassador for the rulers of the southern Netherlands. But whereas Rubens was a fluent linguist,...

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