the Elder

1525 - 1569


Peasants, Fools and Demons


Renaissance Art Map
Pieter Bruegel the Elder  Peasants, Fools and Demons
    A Brief Life in Dangerous Times
    Antwerp: a Booming City
    The Holy Family in the Snow
    Exploring the World
    Demons in Our Midst
    Village Life
    Nature as Man's Environment
    Not only Peasants
    Pieter the Droll?
    Life and Work






The Holy Family in the Snow




Philip Galle
Attributed to after Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Resurrection,
possibly c. 1570, engraving

Bruegel's approach in The Procession to Calvary (1564) is similar: while Christ, who has collapsed under the cross, is located roughly at the centre of the painted wood panel, he is engulfed by the crowds pouring out of town on the left and riding or strolling in a great arc towards the hill of Calvary. It is the panorama of a day out. Riders in red coats - presumably a sort of constabulary -point the way. On the left near the road, some women with barrows and burdens are working against the flow of people. A grim-faced woman is holding back her husband - believed to be Simon of Cyrene, whom the soldiers are ordering to assist in carrying the cross. They must be making quite a commotion, for many bystanders are turning to look. It is not clear whether assistance in carrying the cross is in fact permitted. Whereas some of the accompanying executioners or craftsmen are indeed doing so, one of their number has placed his foot demonstratively on the cross, and the red-coats are also becoming involved. Boys are playing; a pedlar is sitting in the foreground, his back to the observer; once again we notice a man standing at the right-hand edge of the painting who bears a resemblance to the painter.
Most of the people in this general outing seem unaware of the significance behind the impending crucifixion. Only one group, on a raised rock in the right-hand foreground, does not fit into the general picture, on account of their old-fashioned Gothic garments and gestures of grief. Bruegel has collected together here the traditional women as if under the cross; John the disciple is comforting them. Why the artist should have added a different stylistic level to a picture otherwise so realistic in detail remains unexplained. Though Bruegel was not the only artist to treat biblical scenes in an almost peripheral manner, his approach was probably the most consistent of those who painted in this manner. What was his intention here? We may be certain that he was not seeking to provoke; he did not want to be seen as degrading the fundamental elements of Christian belief. This is indicated by the fact that well-nigh half his paintings are devoted to biblical subjects, or at least include them.



The Procession to Calvary

Bruegel has hidden Christ, who has collapsed under his cross, in the midst of a crowd moving towards the place of execution as if to a public spectacle, playing and horsing around, discussing. In the background, we can make out a Flemish Jerusalem on the left and the hill of Calvary on the right, with a rock and windmill of unknown significance between them.



The Procession to Calvary (detail)



The Procession to Calvary (detail)




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