• Elliott

Pieter Bruegel, Babyyyyy

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

This week I'd like to share some pieces from one of my favourite artists of all time - Pieter Bruegel The Elder.

Born in the early 1500s in Brabant, a now-Belgian province of Europe, Bruegel was one of the leading artists of the Dutch & Flemish Renaissance movement. He was well-known for both his landscape pieces and his "peasant scenes"; scenes in which the everyday folk were captured, going about their daily lives. This was a stark departure from the portrait miniature format which was popular at the time, in particular amongst the wealthy. The droll nature of everyday life for everyday folk was often excluded and shunned in art, but this essence was often the focus of pieces in this movement giving the "lower" subject matter more space than the "higher".

He was exceptional at capturing intricate details in his scenes, many of which often included bustling towns or villages, full of various people, buildings and fauna in both the foreground and background. The Census at Bethlehem, Children's Games and Netherlandish Proverbs (below) are all excellent examples of this style. What I love in particular about these pieces is that with every look, you can always find some tiny detail in the background that you hadn't noticed before. Netherlandish Proverbs in particular is a great painting to examine, as it contains over 120 visual representations of - you guessed it - proverbs, or idioms - sayings that were popular in the Netherlands at the time. There's a full breakdown on the Wikipedia page for the painting, if you're interested. His peasant pieces are described as being "earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and games".

(Little side note! Interestingly, Netherlandish Proverbs was used as the cover art for the 2008 debut album of one of my favourite bands, Fleet Foxes. It's also how I came across Pieter Bruegel in the first place, so thanks, Fleet Foxes!)

The Census at Bethlehem, 1566
Children's Games, 1560
Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559

In addition to his intricately detailed peasant scenes, Bruegel's landscapes were similarly impressive, albeit evoking a different tone and feel. My favourite of his landscape paintings is called Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, which depicts a vast variety of natural landscape features including mountains, a river, forests, islands and even a distant town. The skies of Bruegel's landscapes are also magnificent, with pieces such as Gloomy Day effectively capturing the dark and emotive tone of a dark, stormy day. Many of Pieter Bruegel's landscapes were on a far larger scale than were typical at the time, with each one measuring approximately 3ft x 5ft. This may well explain how he was able to capture such detail in his work.

Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, 1563
Gloomy Day, 1565
The Tower of Babel, 1563

I think Renaissance art isn't given as much credit as it's due these days. How people were able to paint such magnificent paintings in the 16th century is a mystery to me.

So, that's about it really, I'm not really sure how to round this off. I don't really have too much more to say about the guy - I just wanted to share some of his work. If nothing else, it makes for a slightly more visually interesting entry! I hope you find them as impressive and enjoyable to look through as I do; there's something awe-inspiring about his pieces, and I hope to see some of them in person if I can.

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