Humanist ideals from the previous century influenced artists and scholars. Italy was at the end of its High Renaissance of arts and culture, when artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci painted their masterpieces. In , about eight years before Bruegel's birth, Martin Luther created his Ninety-five Theses and began the Protestant Reformation in neighboring Germany.
Reformation was accompanied by iconoclasm and widespread destruction of art , including in the Low Countries. The Catholic Church viewed Protestantism and its iconoclasm as a threat to the Church. The Council of Trent , which concluded in , determined that religious art should be more focused on religious subject-matter and less on material things and decorative qualities. At this time, the Low Countries were divided into Seventeen Provinces , some of which wanted separation from the Habsburg rule based in Spain. The Reformation meanwhile produced a number of Protestant denominations that gained followers in the Seventeen Provinces, influenced by the newly Lutheran German states to the east and the newly Anglican England to the west.
The Habsburg monarchs of Spain attempted a policy of strict religious uniformity for the Catholic Church within their domains and enforced it with the Inquisition. Increasing religious antagonisms and riots, political manoeuvrings, and executions eventually resulted in the outbreak of Eighty Years' War. In this atmosphere Bruegel reached the height of his career as a painter.
Although Bruegel did not live to see it, seven provinces became independent and formed the Dutch Republic , while the other ten remained under Habsburg control at the end of the war. Pieter Bruegel specialized in genre paintings populated by peasants, often with a landscape element, though he also painted religious works. Making the life and manners of peasants the main focus of a work was rare in painting in Bruegel's time, and he was a pioneer of the genre painting. Many of his peasant paintings fall into two groups in terms of scale and composition, both of which were original and influential on later painting.
His earlier style shows dozens of small figures, seen from a high viewpoint, and spread fairly evenly across the central picture space. The setting is typically an urban space surrounded by buildings, within which the figures have a "fundamentally disconnected manner of portrayal", with individuals or small groups engaged in their own distinct activity, while ignoring all the others. His earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and games—are unique windows on a vanished folk culture, though still characteristic of Belgian life and culture today, and a prime source of iconographic evidence about both physical and social aspects of 16th-century life.
For example, his famous painting Netherlandish Proverbs , originally The Blue Cloak , illustrates dozens of then-contemporary aphorisms , many of which still are in use in current Flemish, French, English and Dutch.
Children's Games shows the variety of amusements enjoyed by young people. His winter landscapes of , like The Hunters in the Snow , are taken as corroborative evidence of the severity of winters during the Little Ice Age. In paintings like The Peasant Wedding , Bruegel painted individual, identifiable people, while the people in The Fight Between Carnival and Lent are unidentifiable, muffin-faced allegories of greed or gluttony. Bruegel also painted religious scenes in a wide Flemish landscape setting, as in the Conversion of Paul and The Sermon of St.
Dutch and Flemish Renaissance. Mayken's father and eight siblings were all artists or married an artist, and lived in Mechelen. Jan Brueghel the Elder. In , a wealthy patron in Antwerp, Niclaes Jonghelinck , commissioned him to paint a series of paintings of each month of the year. Among the teeming mass of figures we have to search out the central image of Christ as he struggles under the weight of the Cross. In this atmosphere Bruegel reached the height of his career as a painter. His winter scenes and depictions of peasant life have adorned the packaging of biscuit tins and chocolate boxes helping to market these products, particularly in the festive season.
Even if Bruegel's subject matter was unconventional, the religious ideals and proverbs driving his paintings were typical of the Northern Renaissance. He accurately depicted people with disabilities, such as in The Blind Leading the Blind , which depicted a quote from the Bible: Using the Bible to interpret this painting, the six blind men are symbols of the blindness of mankind in pursuing earthly goals instead of focusing on Christ's teachings. Using abundant spirit and comic power, Bruegel created some of the very early images of acute social protest in art history.
Over the s Bruegel moved to a style showing only a few large figures, typically in a landscape background without a distant view. His paintings dominated by their landscapes take a middle course as regards both the number and size of figures. The Land of Cockaigne , Alte Pinakothek , an illustration of the medieval mythical land of plenty called Cockaigne. Bruegel adapted and made more natural the world landscape style, which shows small figures in an imaginary panoramic landscape seen from an elevated viewpoint that includes mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings.
Back in Antwerp from Italy he was commissioned in the s by the publisher Hieronymus Cock to make drawings for a series of engravings , the Large Landscapes , to meet what was now a growing demand for landscape images. Some of his earlier paintings, such as his Landscape with the Flight into Egypt Courtauld , , are fully within the Patinir conventions, but his Landscape with the Fall of Icarus known from two copies had a Patinir-style landscape, in which already the largest figure was a genre figure who was only a bystander for the supposed narrative subject, and may not even be aware of it.
The date of Bruegel's lost original is unclear,  but it is probably relatively early, and if so, foreshadows the trend of his later works.
During the s the early scenes crowded with multitudes of very small figures, whether peasant genre figures or figures in religious narratives, give way to a small number of much larger figures. His famous set of landscapes with genre figures depicting the seasons are the culmination of his landscape style; the five surviving paintings use the basic elements of the world landscape only one lacks craggy mountains but transform them into his own style.
They are larger than most previous works, with a genre scene with several figures in the foreground, and the panoramic view seen past or through trees. The series on the months of the year includes several of Bruegel's best-known works. In , a wealthy patron in Antwerp, Niclaes Jonghelinck , commissioned him to paint a series of paintings of each month of the year. There has been disagreement among art historians as to whether the series originally included six or twelve works.
Traditional Flemish luxury books of hours e. Bruegel's paintings were on a far larger scale than a typical calendar page painting, each one approximately three feet by five feet. For Bruegel, this was a large commission the size of a commission was based on how large the painting was and an important one. In , the Calvinist riots began and it was only two years before the Eighty Years' War broke out. Bruegel may have felt safer with a secular commission so as to not offend Calvinist or Catholic.
On his return from Italy to Antwerp, Bruegel earned his living producing drawings to be turned into prints for the leading print publisher of the city, and indeed northern Europe, Hieronymus Cock. At his "House of the Four Winds" Cock ran a well-oiled production and distribution operation efficiently turning out prints of many sorts that was more concerned with sales than the finest artistic achievement.
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Most of Bruegel's prints come from this period, but he continued to produce drawn designs for prints until the end of his life, leaving only two completed out of a series of the Four Seasons. In many cases we also have Bruegel's drawings. Although the subject matter of his graphic work was often continued in his paintings, there are considerable differences in emphases between the two oeuvres.
To his contemporaries and for long after, until public museums and good reproductions of the paintings made these better known, Bruegel was much better known through his prints than his paintings, which largely explains the critical assessment of him as merely the creator of comic peasant scenes. The prints are mostly engravings, though from about onwards some are etchings or mixtures of both techniques. This, The Dirty Wife , is a most unusual survival now Metropolitan Museum of Art of a drawing on the wooden block intended for printing. For some reason, the specialist block-cutter who carved away the block, following the drawing while also destroying it, had only done one corner of the design before stopping work.
The design then appears as an engraving, perhaps soon after Bruegel's death. Among his greatest successes were a series of allegories, among several designs adopting many of the very individual mannerisms of his compatriot Hieronymus Bosch: The sinners are grotesque and unidentifiable while the allegories of virtue often wear odd headgear. Although Bruegel presumably made them, no drawings that are clearly preparatory studies for paintings survive.
Most surviving drawings are finished designs for prints, or landscape drawings that are fairly finished. After a considerable purge of attributions in recent decades, led by Hans Mielke ,  sixty-one sheets of drawings are now generally agreed to be by Bruegel. Mielke's key observation was that the lily watermark on the paper of several sheets was only found from around onwards, which led to the rapid acceptance of his proposal. A giveaway was that two drawings including the walls of Amsterdam were dated but included elements only built in the s.
This group appears to have been made as deliberate forgeries. As registered in the archives of the Cathedral of Antwerp , their deposition for marriage was registered 25 July, The marriage itself was concluded in the Chapel Church , Brussels in Pieter the Elder had two sons: Their grandmother, Mayken Verhulst , trained the sons because "the Elder" died when both were very small children.
The older brother, Pieter Brueghel copied his father's style and compositions with competence and considerable commercial success. Jan was much more original, and very versatile.
He was an important figure in the transition to the Baroque style in Flemish Baroque painting and Dutch Golden Age painting in a number of its genres. He was often a collaborator with other leading artists, including with Peter Paul Rubens on many works including the Allegory of Sight. Through David Teniers, the family is also related to the whole Teniers family of painters and the Quellinus family of painters and sculptors, since Jan-Erasmus Quellinus married Cornelia, daughter of David Teniers the Younger.
Bruegel's art was long more highly valued by collectors than critics. His friend Abraham Ortelius described him in a friendship album in as "the most perfect painter of his century", but both Vasari and Van Mander see him as essentially a comic successor to Hieronymus Bosch. But Bruegel's work was, as far as we know, always keenly collected. The banker Nicolaes Jonghelinck owned sixteen paintings; his brother Jacques Jonghelinck was a gentleman-sculptor and medallist, who also had significant business interests.
He made medals and tombs in an international style for the Brussels elite, especially Cardinal Granvelle , who was also a keen patron of Bruegel. The series of the Months entered the Habsburg collections in , given to Rudolf's brother and later taken by the emperor himself Rudolf eventually owned at least ten Bruegel paintings. Bruegel's son Pieter could still keep himself and a large studio team busy producing replicas or adaptations of Bruegel's works, as well as his own compositions along similar lines, sixty years or more after they were first painted.
The most frequently copied works were generally not the ones that are most famous today, though this may reflect the availability of the full-scale detailed drawings that were evidently used. Many of Pieter Bruegel's paintings are familiar to us all. His winter scenes and depictions of peasant life have adorned the packaging of biscuit tins and chocolate boxes helping to market these products, particularly in the festive season. However, it should be recognized that Bruegel is considered the most important Neatherlandish painter of the latter half of the sixteenth century.
He was born in the Dutch town of Breda in or around with the birth name of Brueghel, he later dropped the "h" from his name signing his works Bruegel. He was the head of a painting dynasty which included his two sons, the artists, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Pieter the Younger, also had an artist son, Ambrosius, while Jan was father to Jan the younger, who was also a painter confusing isn't it? Bruegel was married to Mayken the daughter of the Flemish artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst it is known that he travelled to France and also spent some time in Italy, eventually he was accepted as a master in the painter's guild of Antwerp. The Fall of the Rebel Angels, The good Angel's are shown in white driving the monstrous-animal-like fallen Angels from heaven. These strange deformed figures fill the bottom half of the painting and are depicted as writhing mass of evil entities.
Oil on Wood 45x61 in x cm Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. The doomed tower lurches to the left and seems to be part under construction, part complete and part already in ruin. The poor construction methods seem lost on the officials and Bruegel has shown them finely dressed but ignorant to the obvious failings of the building. However, on closer inspection, the gathering king's and others seem to focus on the wealth of fabulous gifts on offer rather than the Virgin and Child. There are no halo's to be seen, rather the gathering enviously gaze at the magnificent golden bowl that is offered to the infant Christ.
Even Joseph, shown as an old white haired carpenter, holds his hat as a dignitary explains the value of the wealth on offer. This is a bold departure from the usual depictions of the day where the Holy Family would be the main focus of attention, a brave move by Bruegel! This is a crucifixion with a very unusual, high viewpoint. Among the teeming mass of figures we have to search out the central image of Christ as he struggles under the weight of the Cross.
The precession flows from left to right climbing up Mount Calvary towards the viewer in the foreground and on to the three Mary's with St John who are already mourning.