the world is so faithless, I go my way in mourning."
~ Pieter Bruegel
Pieter Bruegel the Elder is considered
the top artist form Flanders (the Netherlands) during the16th Century. He was known for his paintings of landscapes,
seasonal panoramas, and parables of peasant life. His humanistic times are seen in his works. The unique thing is that these
are the common humans, as opposed to the trendy paintings of the elite created by virtually all preceding artists.
Bruegel, it is said, was apprenticed to Pieter
Coeck van Aelst, a leading artist with studios in Antwerp and Brussels where he worked as a sculptor, architect, and
designer of tapestry and stained glass. Bruegel would later marry his daughter, Mayken, and would settle in Brussels. He also
studied under Hieronymous Cocke for a short time. His outside influences came from unlikely sources.
The greatest of these sources was fellow Renaissance artist, Hieronymus Bosch. Although their styles are extremely different, they were alike in some regards. They both struggled with the pain of life
and morally. For that reason, many times Bruegel will create works that reflect Biblical proverbs. Much of his early fame came about due to his engraved copies Bosch's Seven Virtues and Seven Vices.
He was also influenced by Giulio Clovio when he traveled to study independently in Rome, Italy
for a year of study in 1553. He also traveled around France, Switzerland and Austria to improve his artistic skills and create
landscape paintings. Clovio must have also been influenced by Bruegel, as his estate inventory records that he owned several
of his drawings and paintings.
The family of Bruegel also followed his artistic career. His wife’s
father was his mentor and teacher. Her mother, Maria, was also a watercolor painter in her own respect. She was later employed
in her son-in-law’s studio and is claimed to have influenced his paintings of peasants. Bruegel had two sons,Pieter
the Younger (nicknamed Hell) and Jan the Elder (nicknamed Velvet),
who both also became respected artists. Although respected by their peers, neither son was able to reach the same level of
artistic significance historically as their father.
Bruegel's paintings centering on peasant life were his calling card. He prefers painting peasants
to nobility, but what was truly unique, is the fact that his works of peasants earned his a living and a high status.
A prime example of these peasant works is Hunters in the Snow (sometimes known as January). He often borrowed stories from religion, proverbs, almanacs
or any story that was beloved by the people. He also shows the hardships of his time: religious persecution, iconoclasm, famine, plague, and war. He was quite interested in social and political affairs.
Hunters in the Snow
1565. Tempera on Panel. 3 feet 11¼ inches X 5 feet
3¾ inches. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
Another of Bruegel the Elder's depictions of the common life is The Peasant Dance.
The Peasant Dance
1568. Oil on oak panel. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
We can see his Italian influences in his later works. Especially as we note the strong diagonal compositions.
One of his greatest late works is the Wedding Feast, or the Peasant Wedding. These are superb examples of his admiration of peasant life.
Because of his strong views hidden within the symbolism of his works, many paintings were destroyed before his death so his
family would not be incriminated for his views. He died at the young age of forty-four.
1567. oil on wood. 3 feet 9 inches X 5 feet 4 ½ inches. Kunsthistorisches
Museum, Vienna, Austria.