The Ruins of Castle Merxem, near Antwerp

Jan Brueghel the Elder Netherlandish

Not on view

Jan Brueghel the Elder here depicted the ruins of Castle Merxem, located north of Antwerp. In this drawing, the artist captured the dilapidated state of the building that had been badly damaged in the recent years of political unrest.

An inscription by a later hand dates the drawing to 1610, which is not altogether out of place: the careful but confident drawing style indicates that the sheet will have been executed around 1600–10, just after Brueghel’s return from Rome. In Italy the artist had studied many antique monuments and ruins, and this possibly may have stimulated his interest in the intriguing remains of architectural structures from bygone eras, like this medieval castle of Merxem.

In rendering the outlines of the architecture, Brueghel used delicate and briskly interrupted short pen strokes. Shaded parts and modulations in the landscape, however, were added in much freer parallel hatching. The artist paid striking attention to detail, and seems to have made an effort to ensure the drawing was a truthful visual record of the site’s status quo: note for example the pieces of brick lying around, and three geese in the moat.

In his pen drawings, Brueghel often used watercolor to quickly suggest parts of his compositions. In this instance he reserved the blue, yellow and red hues to elaborate the most monumental part of the castle.

The Ruins of Castle Merxem, near Antwerp, Jan Brueghel the Elder (Netherlandish, Brussels 1568–1625 Antwerp), Pen and brown ink with pink, blue, gray, and yellow washes

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