Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The peasant life is the humanist ideal

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Artists
Portrait of Pieter Bruegel the Elder

A Religious Painter

Pieter Bruegel painted in the midst of a cultural tornado that swept Western Europe in the 1500s. The power of the Catholic church was eroded by the humanism and intellectualism that spread from Italy’s High Renaissance and the new Protestant reformation. Bruegel’s early work was an almost perfect mirror of the demonological themes that Heironymus Bosch had pioneered and had become wildly popular throughout the Netherlands. Birds-eye views of battles between angels and fish-faced demons—Bruegel leaned into the religious obsessions of his culture.

A Student of Humanity

In 1565, Bruegel turned 40 and found a new focus. After traveling to Italy, Antwerp, and finally settling in Brussels, Bruegel decided to paint people. Influenced by the growth of ‘heretical’ Calvinism or by maturing his aesthetic subject matter, Bruegel began to dress as a peasant and socialize at rural weddings and festivals. His work changed dramatically, focusing on the seasons and the honest toil of the working classes.

Bruegel was the first in a dynasty of Flemish painters, and is one of the clearest examples of the role of artists evolving from conduits for religious dogma to independent interpreters of culture. His sons Peiter and Jan Bruegel took up the brush after him, though they were young when their father died, and their work never achieved the refinement and pragmatic worldview of their father’s final works.

Reed Enger, "Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The peasant life is the humanist ideal," in Obelisk Art History, Published June 07, 2015; last modified November 08, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/pieter-bruegel-the-elder/.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a Dutch artist born in 1525. Bruegel the Elder contributed to the Northern Renaissance movement and died on September 9, 1569.

Children's Games, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Children's Games 1560

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Fall of the Rebel Angels 1562

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Triumph of Death 1562

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Tower of Babel 1563

The Procession to Calvary, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Procession to Calvary 1564

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery 1565

Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Hunters in the Snow 1565

The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Harvesters 1565

The "Little" Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The "Little" Tower of Babel 1565

Adoration of the Kings in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Adoration of the Kings in the Snow 1567

Massacre of the Innocents, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Massacre of the Innocents 1565 – 1567

The Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Peasant Wedding 1568

The Three Soldiers, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Three Soldiers 1568

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Bruegel: The Master, Recommended Reading

A complete survey of the 16th century's most prolific and respected Netherlandish artist. Dive deep into Bruegel's incredibly dense, imaginative compositions, complements of the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.

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