Pieter Bruegel 1525?-1569 BACK

The last and one of the greatest of early Netherlandish artists. Bruegel was named after his birthplace, but there is no general agreement which of three possible villages this was. Even the date of his birth is uncertain, as are the details of his training. Obviously an early influence on him was the work of Bosch and it is likely Bruegel was apprenticed to P. Cock van Aelst, whose daughter he married in 1563. After his marriage Bruegel moved from Antwerp to Brussels. There is much conjecture but little evidence regarding his position and attitude during the early years of the rebellion against Spanish rule, the religious controversy and the horrors of civil war. When Bruegel died he left a family of imitators. He had established almost all the categories of later Flemish painting and his own paintings were highly priced. Yet, despite the admiration of Rubens and the fact that most of his paintings were quickly acquired for royal collections, Bruegel's reputation declined until the great revival of interest in his work at the beginning of the 20th century.

Bruegel earned a living for many years with drawings for engravings published by the humanist printseller, Hieronymus Cock. About 40 paintings in oil and a few in tempera on linen survive. Briefly, the outstanding feature of Bruegel's style is its independence of Italian models at the time when most of his contemporaries in the Netherlands were already Romanists. In colour he favoured a muted palette of blue-greens, blue-greys and a wide range of browns, frequently enlivening the picture with points of clear colour, often yellow or red. He extended painting to include the countryside in all seasons, moods and weathers, following medieval Books of Hours and tapestries. He also showed much the same sympathetic but unsentimental interest in those who worked on the land.

An excerpt from Master of Netherlandish Art by Christian Vohringer
In the early work of Bruegel there is a preponderance of drawings and prints compared to paintings. This imbalance in favor of graphic work may go back to the crisis in painting in the Netherlands, and the offer to Bruegel to work with a publisher of prints and begin a new type of career as an "inventor of pictures" for an educated urban public. However, among pictures reckoned as early works, according to the present state of our knowledge, there are also Biblical landscapes, of which few have been preserved and which in comparison with the multi-figured and large-figured paintings of later years appear positively unprepossessing. However, in terms of landscape they are just as fascinating, for example the early drawing Rest on the Flight into Egypt, and in color and atmosphere even richer than the later paintings. Many panel paintings have been lost because they did not match the favored Bruegel type that collectors had discovered already during his lifetime and definitely shortly after his death: the peasant Bruegel or "Pier den Drol" (Peter the Droll). It is possible that with his drawings Bruegel may have discovered a clientele who were rich enough to go on later to commission works in oil. In particular, the newly-rich burghers of Antwerp and Brussels seem to have possessed an increased thirst for display, which Bruegel's urban views and landscapes and his modern re-interpretations of traditional subjects satisfied. The early landscape paintings by Bruegel occupy an intermediate position. Compositionally they are close to the global landscapes of Joachim Patinir, but they link them with New Testament parables that had not been previously depicted in this way.

The earliest dated painting by Bruegel, the Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, is now in San Diego, California. It shows a hilly landscape that leads from a shady slope across a river running diagonally towards a chain of mountains. The farmer in the foreground is busy sowing on poor soil. Other figures are found in the fields and trees in the far distance, or talking and picking fruit. A man is relieving himself. The actual subject matter, the New Testament parable the preaching Jesus. The sermon is about a peasant, who appears in the foreground of the picture as a parable. Earlier illustrations preferred to deal with the more popular of the farming parables, which was easier to moralize: the parable of the devil who sows weeds in the furrow of the hard-working farmer. God's reply to the latter's question as to what the farmer should do with the weeds, was that he should look after them all until harvest day, that is the Day of Judgment, had arrived.

The opening words of the parable - "Behold, a sower went forth to sow" - draw attention to the parable style, because talking in parables means talking visually. Bruegel attempts to recreate this "picture" with his painting. Jesus continues, "And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up. Some fell upon stony places where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprang up because they had no deepness of earth; and when the sun was up, they were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But other seed fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit; some a hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 13, 3 ff.)

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Image List
Landscape with the Parable of the Sowers, 1552

Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1556

Triumph of Death, 1562 image viewer

The Suicide of Saul, 1562

The Tower of Babel, 1563

The Procession to Calvary, 1564

The Massacre of Innocents, 1565

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1565

Artist and Connoisseur, 1565

The Corn Harvest, 1565

Haymaking, 1565

The Wedding Dance in the Open Air, 1566

Magpie on the Gallows, 1568

The Peasant Wedding, 1568 image viewer

Cripples, 1568 image viewer

The Old Peasant Woman, 1568

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