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






Nature as Man's Environment




The Return of the Herd, The Hunters in the Snow and Haymaking belong to a cycle of paintings depicting the months of the year, all with the same format and probably executed for the same patron. Five of these months have survived, the other two being The Corn Harvest (1565) and The Gloomy Day (1565).
No figures striding out with dance-like steps may be seen in The Corn Harvest; quite the opposite, the fieldworkers are exhausted, are lying or sitting, eating or sleeping. Each of these paintings has a dominant colour or combination of colours; here it is the yellow of the corn, ripe for harvesting.
The Gloomy Day was presumably intended as a reference to February, the carnival month. A minstrel is standing in front of the "Star" inn in the village at lower left, and a boy in the right-hand foreground of the picture has fixed a paper crown to his brow, while another is eating a waffle, something commonly consumed at carnival time in those days. Two men are cutting and bundling willow branches, a typical wintertime occupation. The flexible branches were required for the weaving of fences and walls.
Once again, however, it is not the people who determine the picture of the season but Nature, which manifests itself so much more powerfully. It is Nature in which man must assert himself, in which he finds enjoyment, but which he is also unable to affect in any way.
Man's impotence is reflected in the storm-lashed sea and the sinking ships. Bruegel has dramatically illuminated the snow-covered mountains in the background. The slope in the foreground on which the people are working appears perilous. Perhaps it was the storm which uprooted trees on the hill. One almost has the impression that the dark earth, rudely awakened from its winter sleep, was attempting to rise up in revolt.
Bruegel's very different landscape pictures must be seen as a whole and compared with one another in order to fully appreciate the artist's achievement. Never before had the transformation of nature in the course of the seasons been so convincingly captured in pictorial form. Indeed, no-one before - nor perhaps since - has depicted landscapes in such a varied manner, with such an absence of sentiment. A new outlook is revealed here, one influenced by a philosophical conception of the world and sharpened by contemporary interest in natural history and the globe as a whole.



The Corn Harvest



The Gloomy Day

This painting alludes to January or February. The paper crown on the boy's head refers to Epiphany, the Festival of the Three Magi; waffles
were commonly consumed at carnival time prior to Lent. Following the custom at this season, willow branches are being cut for the construction
of walls and fences. The mountains in the background demonstrate the threatening proximity of cold and snow; a further source of threat can be
seen in the storm whipping up the waves and causing ships to sink. The Netherlanders were a seafaring people; they knew how dangerous the
winter months are at sea. Water, mountains and the near intimacy of the foreground are held together by the picture's particular coloration. The
towering trees in the middle serve to anchor the agitated landscape.




The Gloomy Day (detail)




The Gloomy Day (detail)



Prudence, from The Seven Virtues




Johannes and Lucas van Doetechum,  after Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Belgian Wagon
c. 1555




Alpine landscape


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