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Paul (1554-1626) Bril (Brill) and his brother Matthijs (1550-1583) Bril (or Brill) were brothers, both born in Antwerp. Both were landscape painters who worked in Rome after earning Papal favor.
They are also described as painters of "capricci" (whims or fancies) or "vedute ideate" or "veduta di fantasia", with typical rustic hills with a few ruins. Matthijs began work on several frescoes* in Rome from 1570 onwards, and his work includes the Vatican's Seasons and the floor to ceiling frescos in the Torre dei Venti. Matthijs died in 1583, and his brother continued his work, picking up many of Matthijs' commissions.
Paul, a student of Damiaen Oertelmans, painted frescoes such as the landscapes in the Casino Rospigliosi (Rome), and The Roman Forum, which showed this site for what it had become: a slum for squatters and pasture for livestock (so much so that the place was nicknamed Campo Vaccino, or "The Cowfield"). His masterpiece may be a fresco in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican, a monumental depiction of The Martyrdom of St. Clement.
Paul also did small cabinet paintings* on copper, some of which are signed with a pair of glasses (a pun on the Flemish word 'bril' which means 'glasses'). A prolific draftsman, his drawings were popular with collectors and were copied by the many students who worked with him in his studio, which was a popular destination for Netherlandish artists visiting Rome.
He often collaborated on paintings with Johann Rottenhammer, who according to a dealer's letter of 1617 painted the figures in Venice and then sent the plates to Rome for Bril to complete the landscape. He also collaborated with his friends Jan Brueghel the Elder and Adam Elsheimer, whom he both influenced and was influenced by. His collaboration with Elsheimer is shown in a painting now in Chatsworth House.
Agostino Tassi may have been Paul's pupil. Tassi later became the master of Claude Lorrain. The Bril Brothers form one of the links between the panoramic* views of Joachim Patenier, and the ideal landscape evolved by Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. In 1621, Bril became head of the Accademia di San Luca, the artists' academy in Rome.
• Peter and Linda Murray, The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists. Fifth Edition: Revised and Enlarged (Penguin Books, London, 1988), 51.
• Carla Hendriks, Northern Landscapes on Roman Walls: The Frescoes of Matthijs and Paul Bril. (Florence : Centro Di della Edifimi, c2003).
• Rudolf Baer, Paul Bril: Studien zur entwicklungsgeschichte der Landschaftsmalerei um 1600. (Munich: J.B. Grassi, 1930).
• Francesca Cappelletti, Paul Bril e la pittura di paesaggio a Roma, 1580-1630. (Rome: Ugo Bozzi, c.2006).
• Louisa Wood Ruby, Paul Bril: The Drawings. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999).
• Anton Mayer, Das Leben und die Werke der Brueder Matthaeus und Paul Brill. (Leipzig: K.W. Hiersemann, 1910).
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