Lifestyle & Belief

The Brueghel Dynasty


A painting by Jan Brueghel.

TEL AVIV, Israel ― For anyone headed to Rome between Christmas and April, a lush, eye-opening exhibit of Brueghel awaits.

Which Brueghel? All of them, and that is the heart of the show, called "The Brueghel Dynasty," displaying a hundred works spanning 150 years of the output of the remarkably prolific Brueghel clan, possibly the Kennedys of Flemish painting.

For those in the mind of politics, this show offers up the uproarious and, in English, delicately titled “The Flatterers,” in which a fat oligarch literally falling over with money crouches toward a generous river, while into his neatly dissected posterior crawl the pleading masses.

The exhibition makes evident an astonishing accumulation of talent in the Brueghel genes ― which have created meticulously lifelike bugs and droplets of water, and shimmering glass vases ― and of the Brueghel eye, in which every inch of a canvas teems with life.

Some of the doubled paintings, an original and an homage, painted in the same studio one hundred years apart, lead to unanswerable questions about the nature of DNA versus that of years of training.

The show originated at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in August, where it was subtitled "All His Sons."

There, the old masters underwent a new experience: as the first Gazan missiles approached Tel Aviv, museum officials rushed to the basement halls where the show was hung and moved the paintings, drawings and engravings into an underground, bomb-proof shelter.

The show's curator was shown on Israeli TV fretting about the many donors, to whom he had given his word that their masterpieces would remain safe.

After the conflict ended, Israelis raced to see the final days of the exhibit, standing in lines as long as an hour and a half to catch a glimpse of the carousing villagers, the horses and their buggies, the indifferent field workers and the elegant ships sailing out to sea, each plank scrupulously reflected in the shining waters.

Looking at some of the Brueghels' candid, animated faces, it was hard not to wonder what they thought as sirens sounded, as they were bundled up in thick protective layers and deposited behind the metal walls of a vault.