Jan Brueghel The Elder - AENEAS AND THE SIBYL IN THE UNDERWORLD, Oil on Copper 1598.
"The subject is taken from Virgil's Aeneid (vi. 269-282). Aeneas, having reached Cumae on his travels, visited the Sibyl and prayed to be allowed to see his father Anchises once again. Guided by the Sibyl and holding a branch of mistletoe for protection, Aeneas is here shown entering the underworld on a precarious rocky path. Behind them the river Styx stretches into the distance. They edge their way past a coven of three witches or gorgons, while Aeneas flinches as an assortment of fantastic demons snap at his heels. On either side, piled up amidst a grotesque congregation of deformed monsters and devils, lie the naked bodies of the damned, and beyond various devils push a crowd of condemned souls (in unmistakably contemporary dress) towards the hell-fires in the caverns beyond. According to Virgil, among the dead Aeneas encountered his former lover Queen Dido, before finally finding the shade of his father in the Elysian Fields. Here Anchises points out to him the souls of his descendants (as yet unborn) who represent an unbroken line of heroes and rulers from his day to Virgil's own.
Unrecorded until its rediscovery in 2001, this painting is Brueghel's earliest known treatment of this mythological subject. It is an important addition to one of the most celebrated aspects of Brueghel's oeuvre and, in addition, it would also appear to be the only extant example of his famous 'hell' landscapes to remain in private hands. Until 2001, the composition had only been known through a series of later replicas produced in the Brueghel workshop in the 1630s and perhaps by the artist's son, Jan Brueghel the Younger.
Brueghel's extraordinary visions of the underworld are among his most famous works. Although the famous sobriquet 'Hell Brueghel' is usually given to his elder brother Pieter, it is in fact far more likely, as Marlier argues, to refer to Jan who, unlike his brother, clearly made a speciality of these 'diableries'. Despite their widespread reputation, Brueghel only produced a limited number of such works, all of which were painted in his early years between 1594 and 1604. They fall roughly into two groups: those such as the present work with mythological subjects such as the stories of Aeneas, Juno and Orpheus, where the depiction of the infernal landscape is the dominant motif, and those with subjects such as the Temptation of Saint Anthony or Lot and his daughters, which are placed in more traditional nocturnal landscape settings."
Quote and painting found at the Sotheby's Auction website. I happened across this resource of artwork thanks to Paul's mentioning it in a recent post at BibliOdyssey. I had to sign up for an account to access the artwork and painstakingly puzzle pieced together dozens of screenshots of a zoomed in version of the above painting to bring it to you.
I mentioned this painting last year in a post with a few variations of this composition and a much smaller example of the painting presented here.