Jordaens’ vast output ranged from religious, mythological and historical subjects often executed in a large format, but also portraits, genre scenes and tapestry designs. Jordaens’ exuberant idiom celebrates carnal abundance and joie de vivre, with a hallmark cast of voluptuous female forms, ruddy-faced, brawny eaters and drinkers. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jordaens never visited Italy, but absorbed the dramatic realism of Caravaggio and chromatic splendor of the Venetian Renaissance through Rubens, with whom he developed a close working relationship and tangibly refers to in a work like the Allegory of Fruitfulness (1620-29; The Wallace Collection, London). The extent of confusion of their work has only been addressed in recent scholarship. Generally speaking, Jordaens’ oils show more dramatic chiaroscuro and thicker impasto than the older master.
Jordaens received early training with Adam van Noort (1562–1659), a teacher of Rubens, and entered the guild of Saint Like in 1615 as a waterschilder, a painter in tempera and watercolors, although a year later he took up oil as his preferred medium. His earliest dated painting in oil is the Adoration of the Shepherds of 1616 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), a tightly composed nocturnal scene that is conspicuously Caravaggesque. From this early point, the young Jordaens used real people as models for his head studies which served as models for figures in history pictures. Executed in fluid and forceful brushwork, they were prized for their immediacy and tactile quality and notably impressed upon the Dutch portraitist Frans Hals who visited Antwerp in 1616. The large altarpiece Martyrdom of St. Apollonia dated 1628 which remain in the Augustinian Church in Antwerp marks the beginning of Jordaens’ success with major religious commissions across Antwerp. In 1634 he worked with Rubens on the decoration for the Joyeuse Entrée of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria, governor of the Spanish Provinces, and again, in 1637-38 paintings for the Torre de la Parada, Spain. He finished various paintings left unfinished by Rubens who died in 1640. After 1642, Jordaens received commissions from several courts in northern Europe, most importantly producing the Triumph of Frederick Hendrik (1651-52) at Huis ten Bosch near The Hague. He converted to Protestantism around 1655, and although he continued to paint Catholic subjects, late Jordaens more frequently turned to the popular demand for large genre scenes of debaucheries which are among his most important and independent works, The King Drinks (ca. 1640-45; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and As the old sing, so the young pipe (early 1640s; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).
Popular among the local bourgeois, Jordaens never became a court painter but received royal commissions from England, Spain and Sweden. He outlived Rubens and Van Dyck by almost 40 years and remained the leading artist of Antwerp until death. Works by Jordaens were in greater demand than any other artist in Northern Europe in the mid seventeenth century and notably, his paintings are referenced within famed compositions by Vermeer, Velazquez, and Watteau. Many works made their way into Russia in the late eighteenth century for the founding of the Hermitage Museum and through the best European collections of the time: Walpole in England, Crozat in France, Gotzkowsky in Germany.
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Books on Jacob Jordaens
Joost Vander Auwera and Irene Schaudies, eds., Jordaens and the Antique, exh. cat., Brussels and New Haven, 2012.
Zita Ágota Pataki, Birgit Ulrike Münch, eds., Jordaens: Genius of Grand Scale, New York, 2012.
A. d’Hulst, Jacob Jordaens, trans. P.S. Falla, Ithaca, 1982.
Michael Jaffé, Jacob Jordaens 1593–1678, exh. cat. Ottawa, 1968.
Cornelis de Bie, Het Gulden Cabinet vande Edel Vry Schilder-Const, 1662, reprint, Antwerp, 1971.