by Sergio Gaddi and Doron J. Lurie

A hundred works that tell the story of four generations of artists.

The ninth Great Exhibition at Villa Olmo has been put on by Como’s Cultural Councillor Sergio Gaddi and by Doron J. Lurie chief conservator and curator of art of this period at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and narrates the history of the most important family in Flemish art painting of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The exhibition is a great international project the like of which has never before been seen in Italy, presenting an organic and structured view of the relationships that bound and the timeline followed by the pictorial progress of four generations of artists, bringing to the public a hundred extraordinary works spanning four generations of painters.

It is the at times mysterious life of Pieter Breughel the Elder, that sets the narrative tone for the exhibition. His life story is characterised by a scarcity of surviving biographical detail, while the nature of this personal artistic journey cannot be fully understood without an awareness of his relationship to his predecessor Hieronymus Bosch, whose masterpiece The Seven Deadly Sins is exhibited for the very first time in Como.

The relationship between the two artists is fundamental. Guicciardini went so far as to describe Pieter Brueghel as the “second Girolamo Bosco” referring to him as a “great imitator of the fantasies” of the master from the village of ‘s Hertongenbosh. This fantastic world is another historical pillar of an exhibition which offers us allegorical, moralistic and fantastic visions that though unimaginable before that time are rendered realistic and concrete thanks to the exceptional levels of pictorial skill achieved by the sixteenth century painters. Brueghel was much influenced by Bosch and embodies the same powers of observation and representational expertise without limiting himself to a moralistic approach, and thus succeeding in depicting a very wide range of human types and experience.

The comic and the grotesque registers take on an educational aspect that Pieter passed on to his two sons Pieter the Younger and Jan the Elder.

The dynasty was thus by now taking shape and the exhibition faithfully conveys the correspondence between the vicissitudes of the bearers of the family name, to which incidentally Pieter’s sons had in the meantime restored the “h”, and the evolution of their painting style.  The family tree continued to branch out through the sons of the sons of the first Breughel in a complicated network of relations that is thoroughly and accurately presented in the exhibition, through to the eleven children of Jan, five of whom were themselves painters. As the exhibition unfolds it focuses on the story of each artist but also develops in a way that we illustrates the interlacing of international references and historical events of the period. These are in particular  seen through the experience of Jan van Kessel I, son of Paschasia, sister to Jan Brueghel and to Ambrosius Brueghel, an artist of the greatest quality yet little known or studied.

Of the most celebrated of the works of Pieter Brueghel the younger The Wedding Feast stands out as do the two extraordinary versions of  Winter hunters in the snow. Ideally a journey around the exhibition should close with a view of the work of David Teniers the Younger, bound to the Brueghel dynasty through his marriage to Anna, daughter of Ambrosius.