Tuesday, June 12, 2007


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 Brueghel. 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.

Attention to the life and manners of peasants was rare in the arts in Brueghel's time. His contemporaries preferred to paint nobilities and flatter the vanity of rich people in order to secure some commissions. Bruegel's earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village-life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dance and games are unique windows on a vanished folk culture and a prime source of iconographic evidence about both physical and social aspects of 16th century life.

This picture went for 78,000 Guineas or $ 229,320 at an auction in 1965. The picture is now on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Austria).

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