Artist:The School of Jan van Kessell (1626-1679), Flemish
Year: Late 17th Century
Medium: Oil on Wood
Size: Height - 32", Width - 39"

1993.03.02 EL On loan from the Noel family

Riches of the Sea

  • Jan van Kessel was born into a family of artists. His father, Hieronymus II van Kessel, was a painter and collaborator of Jan Brueghel the Elder; and his mother, Paschasia, was the daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder. He received art instruction from his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger at an early age, and in 1646 Brueghel commissioned van Kessel to execute copies after his paintings. [Sutton, The Age of Rubens, p 512] Van Kessel is predominately known for his small-scale paintings of animals (mostly birds, fish, and insects), and still lives of fruit, vegetable, or decorative objects. His allegorical representations of the Five Senses, the Four Elements, or the Four Parts of the World are strongly indebted to Jan Brueghel the Elder. [Sutton, The Age of Rubens, p 512]


    Riches of the Sea serves as an allegory for water. This painting, along with Venus at the Forge, could have been a part of the Four Elements series: water, air, earth, and fire. The image documents a vast number of creatures associated with water, both real and mythological. Similar to Venus at the Forge, the abundance of creatures depicted was probably influenced by the encyclopedias being produced in Antwerp. During the mid to late 1500s Antwerp became the center of the northern European publishing industry. The press, founded by Christopher Plantin (1520-1589), was the largest in Europe by 1570. They not only published theological and humanist texts but also devoted production to books on geography, mathematics, and the natural sciences. Antwerp’s scientific learning may explain the popularity of ‘encyclopedic’ paintings during the period. [Shaw-Taylor and Scott, Bruegel to Rubens, p 20] Van Kessel was influenced by this idea and documented as many creates as possible instead of depicting a naturalistic scene in Riches of the Sea.


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Photos by Ed Houk

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