Paul Bril, who is said to be a founder of Dutch Italianate painting, was born in Breda or in Antwerpen in 1553 or 1554. His father was a painter, so he probably acquired his first skills there. At the age of fourteen Bril studied with the painter Damiaen Wortelmans, who was specialised in the decoration of harpsichords. In 1574 he left Antwerp to travel, via Lyon, to Rome, where Paul joined his brother Matthijs.
Paul Bril arrived in Rome around 1582, when he is mentioned in a document from the Accademia di San Luca. He picked up a career as a landscape artist, at first as an assistent to his brother Matthijs, working on landscape frescoes in Monterotondo and the Vatican. In the later 1580s he obtained many commissions, due to his much wanted specialism in landscape painting and because he inherited his brother Matthijs' contacts after he had passed away in 1583.
Paul gained some popularity when Pope Gregorius XIII commisioned art works for the Collegio Romano, but his fame greatly increased when Pope Sixtus V became his main patron. Bril became part of a team specialized in landscape painting and was asked for almost every possible assignment which entailed decorative landscapes, such as Santa Maria Maggiore, the Vatican Palace and the Scala Santa, which are currently being restored (read more about the restoration here and here).
Amongst his patrons were leading people in the city, members from the Colonna, Borghese and Barberini families. The decades he worked in the city have been crucial for the development of Roman landscape painting. Almost all Netherlandish artists who visited Rome, such as Adam Elsheimer and Jan Brueghel de Oude, came to Bril’s workshop to admire his work, landscapes which were based on his observations of the Roman countryside.
Around 1620 Paul Bril was appointed as director of the Accademia di San Luca. This was extraordinary, since many foreign artists became member of the academy but never made it to such a high position. It is most likely that he was chosen because of his specialization, and he was one of the few foreign artists who, being an outstanding networker, found his way into the higher social circuits in Rome.
Bril is considered a precursor of the Dutch Italianates, in some respects of the Bamboccianti and it is also said that he influenced the French artist Claude Lorrain. (NL)
Self-portrait, 1595 - 1600
Oil on canvas, 71 x 78 cm
© Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
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