Paulus Bril has been called the most influential landscape artist of his time.  His work was renowned throughout Italy and was highly sought after by royalty in many countries.  When Paulus was just 14 years old, he was already supporting himself and gaining fame from the landscape paintings that he painted on harpsichords.

Paulus Bril was born in 1554, in Breda, Netherlands.  He is the younger brother of Matthijs Bril, who was also a painter.  As a young child, Paulus studied under Damiaan Wortelmans. 

In 1574, Paulus moved to Rome, where he joined his brother, who had many commissions for art work from the Vatican.  In the late 1580s, Paulus painted what has been called the first independent works that can be traced to him.  These works were painted in the fresco style and include such paintings as "Jonah and the Wale" and a beautiful series of landscapes.

Paulus began painting small landscapes on copper sheets and on easel-sized canvas.  These often depicted larger paintings and the characters in them that he had made with his older brother, Matthijs.

In 1599, while painting in Rome, Paulus was commissioned to create a fresco cycle (painted on whitewashed walls with watercolor paint), these paintings portrayed hermit saints that were praying in a forest setting.

In 1602, Paulus was commissioned to create the Martyrdom of Saint Clement.  He worked with Giovanna and Cherubino Alberti on this monumental commission for Pope Clement VIII.  This commission was a beautiful seascape setting, it was painted on the Vatican Palace's Sala Clementina, and was finished in 1605.

While working on the commission for Pope Clement VIII, Paulus received yet another commission in 1601, for a series on the Mattei family.  These paintings were created on oversized canvases.

Many of Paulus's fellow painters commented about how his style had changed while he was painting in Rome.  The landscapes he painted early in his career had a distinct influence by such Flemish artists as Pieter Bruegel and Joachim Patinir.  These early paintings used strong contrast of shapes and dramatic colors.  The paintings he created in Rome had many dark strips with streaks of light that seemed to be off in the distance.

After completing the commission for Pope Clement VIII, Paulus began to paint in a more classic and serene style.  It is believed that Paulus was influenced in this style by the artist, Annibale Carracci and also by Adam Elsheimer.  His paintings, using this style, were flatter with a lower horizon and smoother transitions from the foreground to the background, using subtle shades to depict rays light.  Often they included religious settings or mythological subjects.

In 1606, Adam Elsheimer requested that Paulus be the best man at his wedding.  Paulus gladly accepted this invitation from his friend.  Also in 1606, Paulus took in a border who lived with him and learned his style of painting for many years, named Bartolomeus Breenbergh, who was a painter from Amsterdam.

Paulus became an active member in the Accademia di S Luca, in 1607, where he remained active through the mid 1620s and was appointed principal of the school in 1620.  Many of the artists who were painting in Rome, during Paulus's stay there, benefited from Paulus's teachings at the Accademia.  Artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, owe the success of their career to Paulus, when Paulus introduced them to important patrons, many of whom were from the Vatican.

On October 7, 1626, in Rome, Paulus Bril died.  He left a substantial life's work behind him including drawings and sketches, etchings made on sheets of copper, wall decorations such as those he was commissioned to do in the Vatican, and landscapes.

Many of Paulus's works are still on display in museums and galleries around the world, such as:

  • Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France
  • Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
  • Courtauld Institute of Art, London
  • Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan
  • Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium


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