Bruegel Paintings. The most Famous Masterpieces of the Artist

Brueghel. Tower of Babel
Peter Brueghel the Elder. Tower of Babel. 1563. Museum of the Art History, Vienna, Austria.

Brueghel (1525/30 – 1569) is often called the successor to Jerome Bosch. Yes, at first glance, some of their artworks are similar. Bruegel, like Bosch, created crowded canvases.

But still they are different. They are as different as Malevich and Chagall. Both are avant-garde artists. But one is about squares, the other is about love.

Bosch is a medieval surrealist. He has a lot of monsters from terrible dreams. Bruegel is a realist. He portrayed ordinary people, townspeople, beggars. Strange creatures in his paintings are a rarity.

Bosch has refined, delicate figures. Brueghel has big-shouldered peasants. In this, Bruegel was more likely influenced by Michelangelo than Bosch.

Bosch “talks” about the fear of the fall. Bruegel is about human stupidity and the futility of life.

There are too many differences to put Bosch and Brueghel in the same row.

Here are just a few of Brueghel’s masterpieces. They will help you understand such a unique painter as Peter Brueghel the Elder.

1. The Fall of Icarus. 1558.

Brueghel. The Fall of Icarus.
Peter Brueghel the Elder. The Fall of Icarus. 1558. Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.

The painting is called “The Fall of Icarus.” But where is Icarus actually?

In the foreground is a plowman. A little further away is a shepherd with sheep. And also the ship. In the background are the sea and mountains.

Oh yes, in the lower right corner between the fisherman and the ship – Icarus fell into the sea.

He was almost immersed in water. Only his legs are still visible. And a few feathers are spinning around.

Brueghel. The Fall of Icarus (fragment).
Peter Brueghel the Elder. The Fall of Icarus (fragment). 1558. Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.

Why do we see such a neglect of the main character?

It is believed that Bruegel thus illustrated the popular wisdom “No plow will stop while someone dies.”

Bruegel portrayed that no one noticed the death of the young man. Neither a fisherman, nor a plowman, nor a shepherd. None of them quit their occupation. The ship also sailed past.

Such indifference of the world to the tragedy of one person is discouraging.

Such was the world of Bruegel. Has it changed since then?

2. Flemish Proverbs. 1559.

Brueghel. Flemish Proverbs
Peter Brueghel the Elder. Flemish Proverbs. 1559. Berlin Art Gallery, Germany.

This is an amazing picture. It depicts 119 illustrations of proverbs!

Some scenes are easily deciphered without knowledge of Flemish folklore. But others without this knowledge cannot be understood.

Brueghel. Flemish Proverbs. Fragments

On the left fragment, a man carries a basket with steam. He is engaged in a clearly meaningless affair. The saying “carry steam in a basket” just means “wasting time.”

On the right fragment, a woman puts a blue cloak on a man. There is already no logic for modern people. In Bruegel’s time, this meant cheating on a spouse.

There are several Bosch-style monsters in the picture. But they are only here to illustrate proverbs.

Left. Brueghel. Flemish Proverbs (Fragments). Right. Brueghel. Upside Down World (Fragments).

On the left we see an illustration of the saying about people who “are able to even tie a trait to a pillow.” It means being very stubborn.

On the right we see a man who “Holds a candle for the devil.” This means that he is ready to flatter and make friends, if only there is a benefit.

And one more person “Confesses to the devil”, which means he is a traitor. He reveals secrets to the enemy.

The second name of the picture is “Upside Down World”.

Bruegel showed the world of people, exposing all its vices. A world in which people do meaningless things. A world in which they are friends for the sake of profit. A world in which betrayal is at every turn.

This is the bright satire of Brueghel. Funny and sad at the same time.

3. The Tower of Babel. 1563.

Brueghel. The Tower of Babel
Peter Brueghel the Elder. The Tower of Babel. 1563. Museum of the History of Art, Vienna, Austria.

The Tower of Babel incredibly combines panoramic and miniature painting.

Details of the picture are simply amazing. Try to find these fragments. A challenge for the most patient.

Peter Brueghel the Elder. The Tower of Babel (Fragments)

On the left is a 16th century crane. On the right is the part of the city behind the Tower of Babel. A cart rides across the bridge, women washing clothes.

You can also see that there are a lot of temporary buildings along the walls. But judging by the female figures and the hanging clothes, the workers’ families have already moved to them. It already looks more like an anthill than a majestic tower.

Brueghel. The Tower of Babel (fragment)
Peter Brueghel the Elder. The Tower of Babel. 1563. Museum of the History of Art, Vienna, Austria.

Don’t you find it strange that construction is going on at almost every level? It would seem that the lower levels should have already been completed, and work should only be done at the top.

But no, work goes everywhere. Obviously, people understand each other a little. Therefore, they can’t agree on how to build a tower.
But at the very least, they manage to maintain the integrity of the building. And even live in it with their families.

Despite the misunderstanding of each other, ultimately we manage to save our fragile human world. All in patches, all in scaffolding. But it continues to stand.

4. Hunters in the snow. 1565.

Bruegel. Hunters in the snow
Bruegel the Elder. Hunters in the snow. 1565. Museum of the History of Art, Vienna, Austria.

“Hunters in the Snow” is one of the main masterpieces of the Renaissance. What is so special about it?

The space of the picture is slightly concave inward. As if painted on the inside of a giant bowl. The effect of incredible, sucking depth.

Of course, Brueghel purposely distorts the perspective. Otherwise, everything would not fit in such a limited space.

As in the Tower of Babel, Brueghel is working on every detail. You can enlarge any part of the picture, and each time you will see a real artwork.

Did you know that in the picture “Hunters in the Snow” there is a scene of a fire and a game of curling? All this happens in the background.

Bruegel the Elder. Hunters in the snow (fragments)

In this masterpiece there is no longer a satire of “Proverbs”, the tragedy of “Icarus” and the beautiful legend of the “Tower of Babel”. But there is a picture of the world where man and nature coexist quite well.

Despite the fact that hunters return with scarce prey (with one skinny fox), the picture blows quiet joy. Small cares and games of people combined with grandiose mountains and snowy valleys.

The world is not at all hostile to man. On the contrary, if you respect his greatness and adapt, he will give you everything you need.

An unexpected philosophy for the time in which Bruegel lived. America was already discovered. People increasingly became convinced of their superiority. And less and less they thought about unity with nature.

That was Bruegel. His personal worldview was different from the generally accepted.

5. Peasant wedding. 1568.

Bruegel. Peasant wedding.
Bruegel the Elder. Peasant wedding. 1568 Museum of the History of Art, Vienna, Austria.

“Peasant Wedding” – one of the most joyful Bruegel paintings. Thanks to such works, the artist is often called Brueghel Muzhitsky.

Apart from him, no one else depicted peasants. Just imagine, such a picture was created when artists painted exclusively goddesses and aristocrats!

The picture is also densely populated. However, here we see much more unique faces. With individual features. These are no longer caricatures of “Proverbs” and not generalized images of “Hunters”.

Bruegel the Elder. Peasant wedding.

What else unusual do you see? Where is the bride and groom?

The bride in a black dress with a thin wreath on her head. She is so pleased that she closed her eyes. But the groom is more difficult to find.

There are many assumptions. I prefer the version that the groom is a young man filling a jug. He is young enough, well-dressed. Even in those days it was customary to serve the bride and her relatives at a wedding. Apparently, this is what he is busy with.

It is easy to understand Bruegel’s special style thanks to this picture. See what colors he used. Red jacket. White apron. Green carpet. No complex shades and layering.

It is surprising. After all, Bruegel created when Mannerism was already taking shape. When pretentiousness and stylization were highly appreciated. Bruegel preferred to tell complex things in simple terms.

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6. The Parable of the Blind. 1568.

Bruegel. The parable of the blind.
Bruegel the Elder. The parable of the blind. 1568. Capodimonte Museum, Naples, Italy.

Bruegel the Elder. The parable of the blind. 1568. Capodimonte Museum, Naples, Italy.

The Parable of the Blind is one of Brueghel’s latest works.

In the picture we see six blind men holding on to each other. The leader had already fallen into a deep ditch, followed by his comrade. The rest is on the way. The latter are not yet aware of what happened. But we already know what will happen to them.

The moral is simple. It is found in the Bible: “If a blind man leads a blind man, then both of them will fall into the pit.”

Brueghel. Flemish Proverbs (fragment). BlindWe can also see a string of blind people in Flemish proverbs. Only there you can hardly distinguish them.

Why did Bruegel decide to create a whole picture on this plot?

The answer can be found in the history of the Netherlands.

This was the most difficult time in the history of the country. The revolution had just begun, the aim of which was to gain independence from Spain.

But contradictions tore the Netherlands from within. Someone was loyal to the Spanish king. Someone was for independence. One wanted to remain a Catholic. And his neighbor dreamed of making the country Protestant.

Dozens of leaders pulled followers. And they led them to death. Burned at the stake disloyal to the king. Killed Catholics. Protestants were sent to execution.

Here is the Parable of the Blind. This is Brueghel’s warning, his testament to future generations. There are no right and wrong. Do not be a blind man who thoughtlessly follows a bold and loud-voiced, but essentially the same blind man.

Let’s summarize about Brueghel:

Bruegel is a philosopher artist. His artworks are important not only to look at, but to “read.”

His paintings combine moralizing and love of life.

Bruegel was NOT a follower of Bosch.

Bruegel is unique. Because the main characters of his paintings are ordinary people. Only 300 years later, Millet and Van Gogh dare to do so.

Bruegel is a brilliant artist.


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