Menu Search
About Us
The Art Story Homepage Artists Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Flemish Artist and Engraver

Pieter Bruegel the Elder Photo

Born: 1525-30 - Near Breda, Netherlands

Died: September 9, 1569 - Brussels, Belgium

"If he refused to portray humanity according to some ideal of formal beauty or in a light of a religious view of the universe, this is because he penetrated to the inner being of man and discovered its essential reality."

Arturo Bovi

Summary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was an artist of the Northern Renaissance whose visually engrossing paintings offer a celebration of the common mass of humanity, in contrast to the pious religious painting which dominated much Renaissance art of the previous century. Born in what is now the Netherlands in the 1520s, reputedly into a peasant family, his work focuses on themes such as rural working life, religion and superstition, and the political and social intrigues of his day. These themes were tackled with an unmistakable, droll and often grotesque humor, an interest in the collective over the individual, and a healthy skepticism for narratives of great deeds and men. From the Dutch Golden Age painters of the following century to the Realists of nineteenth-century France and beyond, any artist who has cast their eye over their subject with an honesty debunking mythology works in the spirit of the man sometimes known as "Peasant Bruegel".

Key Ideas

Bruegel's most distinctive stylistic contribution to art history was a form of narrative composition in which a sprawling landscape is filled with a teeming mass of humanity, figures grouped together across the canvas to form various intersecting focal points. Reminiscent of his older countryman Hieronymus Bosch's surreal hellscapes, this approach set Bruegel apart from many Renaissance artists who favored more visually harmonious compositions, offering a snapshot of a lingering medieval view of human society as chaotic and unruly.
In accordance with his preference for large group compositions, Bruegel produced a series of mythological or historical paintings in which attention is drawn away from the nominal subject of the work towards the everyday life continuing all around it. In his Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, only a desultory pair of legs sinking into the water in the middle distance records the tragic hero's downfall. This represents a departure from the focus on heroic individuals common in Renaissance art, and suggests a sympathy with the common lot of humanity which has been recognized by artists and writers ever since.
Bruegel was also a pioneer of what would become known as "genre painting", scenes of everyday working life captured with honesty, empathy, and occasional bathetic humor. While he is loath to pay homage to Biblical and mythical heroes, he has far less compunction about representing peasant revelers at a wedding, for example, or a procession of blind beggars. In the centuries to come, notably through the work of Dutch artists of the following century, this focus on everyday life would become the basis of the artistic ethos known as Realism.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder Photo

Though he is considered one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance, little information exists about the childhood of Pieter Bruegel. All that is known for certain is that he was born Peeter Brueghel, into what many believe was a peasant family, in or near Breda in the Netherlands, between 1525 and 1530.

Most Important Art

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterSave on PinterestSend In Facebook MessengerSend In WhatsApp
Support Us