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



The Procession to Calvary (detail)



The Procession to Calvary (detail)

The Procession to Calvary (detail)

The officers seem to be arguing as to whether Jesus should be helped in carrying his cross. At the right-hand edge of the picture we once again observe a bearded figure, perhaps that of the painter himself.




Criticism of the Catholic Church may have played a part here - directed not against the faith but against the institution, the clergy and their worldly power. This criticism is also apparent in the artist's selection of subjects. Bruegel painted no martyrs, no saints from the history of the Catholic Church, but only biblical figures -those, in other words, who were of significance for every Christian. It is possible that anti-Spanish feelings were also at work here. The Catholic Church was so inextricably linked with the worldly rule of Philip that to attack the Church was to attack the King. Bruegel filled the area of which the saints were deprived with the people and scenery of the Netherlands. Intentionally or not, Bruegel's pictures reflect the wish that the foreign rulers be deposed, and therefore reveal something of the process of emancipation taking place in the Netherlands provinces.
This is but one aspect among many. The fact that the painter's work should not be viewed from this angle alone is illustrated by two grisailles, The Death of the Virgin (c. 1564) and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565). Each of the panels is restricted to its religious subject-matter. In the former, St. John, next to the fireplace, appears to be asleep. In his dream, he sees the dying Virgin, with the believers from all over the world streaming towards her. In the latter picture, Jesus is writing with His finger in the dust the famous sentence concerning the stone which should be thrown at the woman taken in adultery by "he that is without sin amongst you" (John 8:7). The two paintings are very singular. The absence of different colours - grisaille - is compensated for by almost supernatural lighting effects, similar to those which Rembrandt would employ again and again in the following century.



The Death of the Virgin
c. 1564

John the disciple, sleeping next to the fireplace on the left of the picture, is dreaming that the apostles and other saints have assembled around the bed of the dying Virgin. Bruegel is employing seemingly supernatural lighting effects here, such as would later be typical of Rembrandt's work.



Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

The woman whom the Pharisees have accused has been portrayed by
Bruegel as a graceful figure in the centre of the picture. She represents
one of the few female figures to be painted by Bruegel not as an earthy
country woman but instead in accordance with the urban ideal of beauty.



The Temptation of Saint Anthony
c. 1550

This early painting is in the fantastic tradition of Hieronymus Bosch


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