Marten van Valcheborch, “Tower of Babylon”


(Leuven, 1535 - 1612, Frankfurt)

Tower of Babylon

Oil on panel, 84 x 116 cm


Marten van Valckenborch comes from a family of Netherlandish landscape and genre painters, of whom he and his brother Lucas (ca 1535 – 1597) became most well-known. According to the art historian Karel van Mander, Marten studied painting in Mechelen, which was known as an art centre for painting landscapes in oil and watercolour. The careers of both brothers started in Malines and ended in Frankfurt where they ran a flourishing workshop together, although their paths departed for some time due to war and religious persecution. Both Marten and Lucas worked in the tradition of Pieter Brueghel – hence their typical subjects: winter landscapes and the Tower of Babel. Today the artwork by Marten van Valckenborch can be found in many museums around the world, including the Museum of Art History, Vienna, Austria; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA; the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, England; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The allegory hidden in the picture refers to human arrogance that drew forth the wrath of God. The subject is taken from the Book of Genesis (11:1–9) telling the story how a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language, decided to build themselves a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves. The God considered this indecorous of men and decided to hinder the construction by mixing up the languages of all the earth. This story provided a rich source of subject matter for several late 16th and early 17th century Flemish painters. The two most outstanding representations of it were inspired by the two iconic eponymous works dated 1563 by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (held at the Museum of Art History, Vienna, Austria and Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Holland). It can be said that through history, literature and art where this subject has been widely treated and elaborated on, the story of the tower of Babel is one of the most chrestomathic ones, calling people up to modesty and dignity in order to preserve the ability to communicate in the understanding of each other.

Condition report:

The artwork is in excellent condition.


Important private collection, Zürich, Switzerland


Exhibition’s catalogue “Art Rules”, Tallinn, 2015


The Exhibition “Art Rules” organized by Art-Life Project in Tallinn Town Hall, 5 June 2015 – 5 October 2015, Estonia

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