Jordaens is invariably described as the third greatest Flemish painter of the seventeenth century and from 1640 to the early 1660’s, he was the foremost painter in Antwerp. At this time, Jordaens’ work was more in demand than that of any other artist painting in Northern Europe. His best work, however, is not international, but assertively Flemish in style, and often personal in its interpretation of subject. Unlike almost every major Flemish artist, Jordaens never went to Italy. He admired the paintings of Titian, Veronese, Jacopo Bassano Adam Elsheimer, and Caravaggio, but his early transition from Mannerism to Caravaggesque and then a classicistic style was modeled mostly on Rubens, who continued to influence Jordaens for at least two decades. Jordaens’s debt, however, was limited to compositional ideas, the adaptation of certain poses, and some qualities of execution. He was remarkably independent in the use of light, the choice of colour, and the undulating rhythm of his line, and direct observation was important for the characterization of his figures. A rugged, sometimes coarse realism is most apparent in Jordaen’s portraits and ribald genre scenes, but also lends conviction to his religious pictures. The artist’s penchant for illustrating proverbs and inscribing pictures reveals a literary and didactic inclination that, through the 1640’s, was wonderfully foiled by his empirical approach, but, after 1650, became one of the forces that steadily eroded the quality of his work.
Jordaens, baptized in Antwerp on May 20, 1593, became a pupil of Adam van Noort in 1607. In 1615, he joined the painter’s guild in Antwerp as a waterschilder, a painter in tempera and watercolours. On May 15, 1616, he married van Noort’s eldest daughter, Catharina. Jordaens’s first dated work is of the same year, but earlier paintings are known. His daughters Elizabeth and Anna Catharina were born in 1617 and 1629; his only son Jacob II, was born in 1625, and became a minor painter. Jordaens was elected dean of the painter’s guild on September 28, 1621, and apparently served unwillingly for one year. He accepted the first two of his many pupils from 1620-1622. A great number of pictures, including commissions from churches and many of his finest works, date from 1618 through the 1630’s. In 1634-1635, he worked under Rubens’s direction on The Triumphal Entry of the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand into Antwerp, and in 1637-1638, contributed canvases to Rubens’s decoration of The Torre de la Parada, outside Madrid. Jordaens’s successes during this period is indicated by the purchase of houses in 1635 and 1639, the construction of a large house about 1640, and the commission in 1639 of 22 paintings to decorate the Queen’s house of Greenwich. In 1648, he received a commission from the Queen of Sweden for 35 large paintings and, from 1649 to 1652, painted two canvases for Huize ten Bosch including the biggest and by far the busiest work at the palace, The Triumph of Prince Frederick Hendrick. Many of Jordaens’s large works date from the 1650’s and 1660’s, among the tapestry cartoons, altarpieces, twelve scenes of The Passion for the King of Sweden, and three paintings for the Townhall of Amsterdam. In 1669, the76 year-old artist was said to be “painting assiduously”, but this activity sharply declined in the 1670’s. Jordaens and his daughter Elizabeth both died on October the 18, 1678, and were buried in Putte (just over the border in the Netherlands), where the painter’s wife had been buried before. He had openly adhered to Protestantism after the treaty of Munster in 1648, by which time he had long been sympathetic to Calvinism.