Pieter Bruegel the Younger (1564-1637 / 1638), or Hell Bruegel, influenced the development of Dutch painting in a special way.
Yes, in the history of art, innovators remain first and foremost. Those who invent new techniques and techniques. Those who work in a way that no one else has worked before. And such innovators worked at the same time as Bruegel the Younger: Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Velazquez.
Bruegel the Younger was not like that. Therefore, it was forgotten for several centuries. But at the beginning of the 20th century, the understanding suddenly came that the value of this artist is completely different …
In this article I will try to answer the question of who Pieter Bruegel the Younger was. Just a copyist, or is it a great master?
Unusual becoming of the artist
Peter Bruegel the Younger was 5 years old when his father died. Therefore, he did NOT study with a great master, but with his grandmother, mother-in-law of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Maria Verhulst Bessemers. Yes, she was also an artist, which is generally unbelievable. That’s how lucky Peter was.
A fragment of a copy of his father’s work “Sermon of St. John” depicts Pieter Bruegel the elder (a bearded man at the edge), his mother (a woman in a red dress with her arms crossed on her chest) and his grandmother (a woman in gray).
He aged them as if they were alive at the time of depicting. After all, on their father’s original they are still young … It turned out very touching.
But Maria Bessemers not only taught the boy to paint, but also gave him something very valuable. Father’s tracing templates! By attaching them to the board, it was possible to copy the compositional solution and all the shapes of objects and figures. It was a gold mine! And that’s why.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder died quite young, he was not yet 45 years old. At the same time, he became famous during his lifetime. Orders poured into him. Therefore, he began to make tracing paper, so that later in the workshop he and his assistants could copy the most popular works. But he died, and the demand for his works remained.
Other masters tried to work in his style. For example, Martin van Cleve. But he had no templates. He could only see the original work a couple of times (in the house of the owner of the painting) and then depicted something similar based on motives.
For example, this is how he created The Return of the Herd.
There is something in common, you must agree. But this is not an exact copy. Cleve missed the majesty of Bruegel’s nature. And the figures of the shepherds are rougher.
Please note that the hand of one of them is slightly higher than necessary. As if growing from the ear. Bruegel created better works from the point of view of realism.
But the son of the master, Pieter Bruegel the Younger, grew up and became a master. He was accepted into the guild of St. Luke. This happened in the same year that Cleve died.
Not only did the guy get tracing papers, but even the main imitator of his father died. And the demand was still there. He took the chance and began copying his father’s works.
What is the difference between the work of father and son
Comparing the work of the son and the father, we notice that they are still different.
And the main difference is in color. For some reason, the son’s color scheme does not always coincide with his father’s. I think you can already guess why.
It’s all about tracing paper. The son had them, but he did not always have the opportunity to see the original with his own eyes. And even if there was such an opportunity, it is difficult to remember all the details in one go. The painting could have been acquired by collectors from another city. And he managed to see the original only once. And that is not always the case.
Also note that the son simplifies the drawing, as a result the image is more grotesque and close to the popular print.
These fragments show how the father is more realistic, and the son is more schematic.
Well, he had to work faster. Making copies required the involvement of assistants who were less skilled. And in general, such an almost conveyor work did not imply the study of all the details.
In addition, these paintings were not sold to the aristocracy, but to people of lower classes. And Pieter Bruegel the Younger strove to match their tastes. And they liked just such a simple style. The figures and faces are more simplified, which, again, is clearly visible in comparison.
Still, Pieter Bruegel the Younger was actually a very good master, as this work proves.
It was also painted according to his father’s tracing paper, but it was made very high quality. Realistic face of a shepherd, proportionately conveyed the emotions of the unfortunate. And also a landscape very suitable for a tragic scene with rare trees and a sun-scorched earth.
The work is so good in execution that for a long time it was attributed to the father. But nevertheless, the analysis of the age of the board proved that it was created later by the son of the master using a tracing-paper template.
Why else did the son change his father’s paintings
There are works that are almost exact copies. Despite their huge number. Thus, the famous Bruegel’s “Bird Trap” by Pieter Bruegel and his workshop were copied more than a hundred times.
To understand the scale: at least 3 such copies are kept in Russia. In the private collection of Valeria and Vladimir Mauergauz, in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Most likely, there are such copies in other private collections.
I won’t even show them all, as they are very similar. And the comparison makes no sense. This is the case when the customer demanded “exactly the same” and Peter did not deviate from the template almost a single step.
Above, we figured out why the originals and replicas did not match colors.
But sometimes Bruegel the Younger also changed the composition of his father. And he did it on purpose. Look at two of their works.
At the father’s, Christ with the cross is lost in the crowd. And if you have not seen this painting before, then it will take you some time to find the main character. The son makes the figure of Christ larger and places it in the foreground. You can see it almost immediately.
Why did the son change the composition so much without using the finished tracing paper? The point is again in the tastes of the customers.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder laid down a certain philosophy, depicting the main character in such a small way. After all, for us this crucifixion of Christ is the key and most tragic event in the Bible. We understand how much he did to save people’s souls.
But the contemporaries of Christ hardly understood this, apart from a small group of those close to the Son of God. The people did not care who was being led there to Calvary, except from the point of view of the spectacle. This event was lost in the heap of their daily worries and thoughts.
But Pieter Bruegel the Younger did not complicate the plot so much. The customers just needed the “Procession to Calvary”. No layering of meanings.
He also simplified his father’s idea of the Seven Deeds of Mercy.
The painting was created according to a phrase from the Gospel of Matthew. It says that saint Matthew was fed, watered, clothed, people went to see him sick, visited him in prison and accepted him as a traveler. In the Middle Ages, another deed of mercy was added to his words – burial according to Christian laws.
On the engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, we see not only all seven good deeds, but also an allegory of mercy – a girl in the center with a bird on her head.
And the son did not portray her and turned the scene almost into a genre one. Although we still see all the works of mercy on it.
NOT paternal heritage
It is important to note that Pieter Bruegel of Hell did not only create replicas of his father. And here I’ll just explain why they called him Hell Bruegel.
After all, he tried to work in the style of Bosch, creating fantastic creatures. Therefore, he was nicknamed as Hell Bruegel, just because of these early works.
But then the demand for Bosch’s fantasies faded away: people wanted more genre scenes. And the artist switched to them. But the nickname stuck so well that it has come down to our times.
And the French also loved genre scenes. And with a more pronounced satirical beginning. It was from the French work that the artist made the replica “The Village Advocate”.
You see, even the wall calendar is still in French. And here it is satire, a mockery of the work of tax lawyers …
It was a very popular genre scene, so the artist and his workshop made a lot of replicas.
Where without Dutch proverbs! You probably know the incredible painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder on this topic. I wrote about her in this article.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the topic has not lost its relevance. However, it was already in the trend to hang decorative plates on the walls, on which one or another proverb was visually told.
On the left, Bruegel shows that “they don’t wave their fists after a fight” and that there is no point in burying the well, since a calf has already died in it.
But on the right, the dual nature of some people is shown, when they say one thing to face and think quite another. As if they carry both water and fire at the same time.
Pieter Bruegel the Younger never hid the fact that he was copying his father’s work. And he always signed them with his name. That is, he was extremely honest with the market. He did not try to sell the painting more profitably, passing it off as the work of his father. It was his path, but he actually solidified the foundation laid by his father.
And thanks to Bruegel the Younger, we know about those works of the great master that were lost. And only through copies of the son can we get a more complete picture of the father’s work.
PS. It is important to mention that Pieter Bruegel the Elder had another son named Jan. He was only a year old when his father died. And just like his older brother Peter, he never studied with his father. Jan Bruegel the Elder (Velvet or Flower Bruegel) also became an artist, but chose a different path.
In another short article I’m just talking about it. After reading it, you will no longer confuse the brothers. And even better understand the famous Bruegel family of artists.
If my style of presenting information is close to you and you are interested in studying art, I can send you a free series of lessons to your email. For this, please fill in a simple form at this link.
Anthony Van Dyck. Portrait of Pieter Brueghel the Younger: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/digital-collection/02.+drawings/242152
2 thoughts on “Pieter Bruegel the Younger or Hell Bruegel. Copyist or great artist?”
Thank you for your detailed explanation of the Elder and Younger. I found this after reading about the painting that was found behind the door, and wanted to see the art up close.
You are welcome!