Jan Brueghel the Elder was born in Brussels in 1568, the son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He is said to have been taught in Antwerp by Pieter Goetkint and to have visited Cologne.
From 1589 to 1596 he worked in Italy, mainly in Naples, Rome, and Milan where he met one of his most important patrons, Cardinal Federico Borromeo, who remained a lifelong friend.
In 1596, Brueghel was back in Antwerp, where he became a Master in the Guild of St. Luke in 1597.
After a short stay in Prague in 1604 at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, Brueghel served as court painter to the Archduke Albert of Austria and the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain in Brussels from 1606.
He was a painter of landscape and figures (on a small scale) and flowers. He worked in collaboration with other artists, including Rubens, who painted the portrait of Brueghel’s family in 1613–5 (The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London).