• BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
        (fl. 1551d. 1569)


      • Biog. II/Gallery | Bruegel Family | Jan the Elder | Jan the Younger | Pieter the Younger
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        Painter


      • Pieter Bruegel the Elder.   The last and one of the greatest of the early Netherlandish artists. Bruegel was named after his birthplace, but there is no general agreement which of 3 possible villages this was. Moreover, his name is variously spelt. He signed his work Bruegel and Brueghel, while he was nicknamed 'Bruegel the Droll' or 'Peasant Bruegel', by later writers on art to distinguish him from other members of the family of painters he founded. Even the date of Bruegel's birth is uncertain, as are details of his training. Obviously an early influence on him was the work of Bosch (d. 1516) and it is likely Bruegel was apprenticed to P. Coecke van Aelst, whose daughter he married in 1563. He was a master of the Antwerp Guild in 1551. Shortly afterwards Bruegel journeyed extensively in Italy, probably as far south as Sicily, returning through the Grisons and the Tyrol. After his marriage Bruegel moved from Antwerp to Brussels. There is much conjecture but little evidence regarding his position and attitude during the early years of the rebellion against Spanish rule, the religious controversy and the horrors of civil war. When Bruegel died he left a family of imitators. He had established almost all the categories of later Flemish painting and his own paintings were highly priced. Yet, despite the admiration of Rubens and the fact that most of his paintings were quickly acquired for royal collections, Bruegel's reputation declined until the great revival of interest in his work at the beginning of the 20th century.

        Bruegel earned a living for many years with drawing for engravings published by the humanist printseller, Hieronymus Cock. He probably painted in watercolour technique, but the work has been lost. About 40 paintings in oil and a few in tempera on linen survive. Briefly, the outstanding feature of Bruegel's style is its independence of Italian models at the time when most of his contemporaries in the Netherlands were already Romanists. In colour he favours a muted palette of blue-greens, blue-greys and a wide range of browns, frequently enlivening the picture with points of clear colour, often yellow or red. He extended painting to include the countryside in all seasons, moods and weathers, following medieval Books of Hours and tapestries.

        He also showed much the same sympathetic but unsentimental interest in those who worked on the land. Between the labourers and their environment Bruegel manages to establish a wholly original relationship in visual terms, e.g. between the lean hunters and the countryside locked in winter - Hunters in the Snow; the feeling of well-being won from nature - The Corn Harvest; or a steel-cold winter's day providing the background to an act of human brutality - The Massacre of the Innocents. At times the landscape almost overpowers the activities of men, as the dramatic Alpine settings do in both The Suicide of Saul and The Conversion of St Paul, or the turbulent water in Storm at Sea. The Peasant Dance and Peasant Wedding provide 'close-ups' of the peasants' happier hours.

        Throughout his life Bruegel used everyday sayings and proverbs to draw personal and highly sophisticated morals on the condition of man. The mastery he came to achieve over his vast material, observed and imagined, can nowhere be better seen than by comparing his early, over-crowded Netherlandish Proverbs with the brilliantly composed late work The Blind Leading the Blind. 2 works showing the power of his imagination at its greatest are Dulle Griet and The Triumph of Death. The 1st, a Satanic landscape peopled by all the devils of medieval folk-lore, has been a stimulus to poets, painters and also film producers in the 20th century, while The Triumph of Death, with its almost mechanical destruction of human life by thousands, has appeared grimiy appropriate to aspects of our times.


      • Source: The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists (World of Art)

      • Biog. II/Gallery | Bruegel Family | Jan the Elder | Jan the Younger | Pieter the Younger
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