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