Figure painter, painter, landscape painter, draughtsman and commercial artist
On 13 November 1598 Bartholomeus Breenbergh was baptised in the Reformed church at Deventer, a son of the apothecary Jan Breenbergh and his wife, Anna Buecker. After Jan's death in 1607, the family moved, presumably by way of Hoorn, to Amsterdam. It was there that Breenbergh received his artistic training, probably in the circle of the Pre-Rembrandtists. He is documented in Amsterdam as a painter in 1619, but in that same year he left for Italy. There he painted his 'Finding of Moses' (Stockholm, Hallwyl Galerie), his earliest known dated painting. Breenbergh belonged to the first generation of the Italianists and was one of the co-founders of the Schildersbent, the association of Netherlandish artists in Rome. As one of the Bentvueghels, as these artists were also known, he was nicknamed 'the ferret'. It is said that he maintained especially close contact with Cornelis van Poelenburch and the Fleming Paul Bril, some of whose works he copied. The Duke of Bracciano in Bomarzo was one of his patrons, for the inventory of the Orsini from 1655/66 documents seven of the painter's landscapes. After his return to Amsterdam in 1630, Breenbergh once again came under the influence of the Pre-Rembrandtists. His expressive figures show the influence of works by Pieter Lastman. Historical and mythological scenes in an Arcadian landscape were now among his favourite subjects. Here one sees points of contact with the early work of Rembrandt, with whom Breenburgh moved in the same artistic circles. On 11 September 1633 Breenbergh married Rebecca Schellingwou, the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant. In 1648 they rented a house on Amsterdam's Lauriersgracht, in 1654 they lived in the Prinsengracht and three years later in the more elegant Herengracht. His identification in Amsterdam registers from 1649 and 1653 as a merchant is possibly due to the fact that one of his two sons was active in foreign trade. On 5 October 1657 Breenbergh was buried in Amsterdam's Oude Kerk. In addition to landscapes and historical scenes, he also painted portraits. His graphic oeuvre consists of drawings and a few etchings. Mainly drawings survive from his nearly ten-year sojourn in Italy. These were produced both from nature and in his workshop, and are often autonomous works.