Hendrik I VAN BALEN (1575-1632) – the Massacre of the Innocents

Hendrik van Balen : a strong link with Rubens and Velvet Brueghel

Hendrik van Balen (Antwerp 1573/1575 – 1632) was a Baroque painter who worked on small panels or copper plates. He was a pupil of Adam van Noort and influenced by Rubens. In 1592-1593 he was included as a master in the Antwerp painters’ Guild of St. Luke. He was the teacher of – among others – Anton van Dyck (in 1609-1610) and Frans Snyders. In 1618, his seventh child Maria got Peter Paul Rubens as her godfather.

Van Balen mostly painted mythological or biblical scenes. Van Balen often collaborated with other masters such as Joos de Momper, Jan Brueghel The Elder and Jan Brueghel The Younger  –  van Balen usually painted the elegant characters. Only a few examples of the collaborations with  Jan Brueghel I have survived (the latter one  painted the backgrounds and the elements from still lifes).

Between 1600 en 1620 van Balen painted original, small cabinet pieces. Afterwards, under the influence of Rubens, also larger altar pieces. In 1602 he travelled to Italy, visiting Venice and Rome.  After his return he ran a busy workshop in Antwerp. In the 17th century, the art market in Antwerp was very different from those in the rest of Europe. Antwerp knew a set up of circuits in which 2 or more colleague-artists worked together on 1 painting (e.g. Rubens with Frans Snyders, Rubens with Jan Brueghel and Jan Brueghel with Hendrik van Balen).

When a client wanted to have certain masters in his collection, this way of collaboration offered the advantage to immediately own 2 or more names. If a client was unable to obtain such a work , he had to settle with a copy from ‘the workshop’ of the artist.

Hendrik van Balen is present in the collections of the world’s largest museums (the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the J. Paul Getty-museum in L.A., the National Gallery in London and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam).

Owner: Private collection


Van Balen: Massacre of the Innocent Children


The plaquete on the frame mentions (probably incorrectly) the cooperation of van Balen and the Velvet Brueghel. A closer examination of this panel in the Rubenianum (Antwerp) seems rather pointing to a collaboration between van Balen and Sebastiaan VRANCKX. The (imaginary) landscape, the Flemish buildings, the Baroque gate (at the left) and the trees with their typical form should be of his hand. Also the hunting dog in the background is probably painted by Vranckx.

Van Balen: Massacre of the Innocent Children - detail 1


The experts recognize the hand of van Balen in the typical figures that appear in this setting. The paint was applied abundantly and the scene looks very much like Rubens. The work is pictorially and shows many details. This points to the later period in the oeuvre of van Balen. Also the archaeological details (such as the footwear of the figures) refer to the hand of this master.

Van Balen: Massacre of the Innocent Children - detail 2

The scene on the left side of the panel was painted in “partial shade”-technique, which is typical for van Balen.


Van Balen: Massacre of the Innocent Children - detail 3

This work shows no traces of “pentimenti” (later corrections applied by the artist himself), which again points to the hand of a great master. Van Balen probably based this original work on copper on a previously made sketch.

At the middle of this panel, in the background, we discover a scene that is rather rare and that is branded by the experts as interesting and exeptional: mothers hide their children high in the trees for the murderous soldiers…

Van Balen: Massacre of the Innocent Children - detail 4


The experts of the Rubenianum consider this original work of museum quality. They find it particularly interesting because there is no similar scene known by van Balen. Neither exist such copies of this painting.  Last but not least: this painting has not been included in the important and detailed overview of van Balen made by Dr. Bettina Werche.