The greatest of the Flemish sixteenth-century masters of genre was Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569). From 1559 he dropped the 'h' from his name and started signing his paintings as Bruegel.
We know little of his life except that he had been to Italy, like so many northern artists of his time, and that he lived and worked in Antwerp and Brussels, where he painted most of his pictures in the 1560s, the decade in which the stern Duke of Alva, committed persecutor of Protestants and a Protestants mass murderer, arrived in the Netherlands.
He was the son of a peasant residing in the village of Breughel. Bruegel specialized in landscapes populated by peasants. He is often credited as being the first Western painter to paint landscapes for their own sake, rather than as a backdrop for history painting. And people used to refer to him as Peasant Bruegel. He died in Brussels in September 1569. He was the father of Pieter Bruegel the Younger and Jan Bruegel the Elder.
This picture was bought in 1923 by a Swiss textile merchant named Hans Mettler (1) for £319, probably the deal of his life. In 1979, it went on auction for £ 400,000 ($840,000).
(1) Not to be confused with Swiss-born, Ottawa-based artist Hans J. Mettler.