Trivium Art HistoryThe Artists

Pieter Bruegel the ElderThe peasant life is the humanist ideal

A Religious Painter

Pieter Bruegel painted in the midst of a cultural tornado that swept Western Europe in the 1500’s. 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 was following the religious obsession of his culture.

A Student of Humanity 

But in 1565, when Bruegel was 40 years old, he found a new focus. After traveling to Italy, Antwerp, and finally settling in Brussels, Bruegel decided to paint people. Perhaps influenced by the growth of ‘heretical’ Calvinism, or simply the maturing of a successful artist, Bruegel began to dress as a peasant, and socialize at rural weddings and festivals. His work changed dramatically, with a new focus 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 evolving role of an artist — from a conduit of religious dogma, to an independent interpreter of culture. His sons Peiter and Jan Bruegel would take up the brush after him, though they were still young when their father died, and their work would always lack the refinement and pragmatic worldview of their father’s final works.

Read More

Children's Games

1560

The Triumph of Death

1562

The Fall of the Rebel Angels

1562

The Tower of Babel

1563

The Procession to Calvary

1564

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

1565

Hunters in the Snow

1565

The "Little" Tower of Babel

1565

The Harvesters

1565

Massacre of the Innocents

1565-1567

Adoration of the Kings in the Snow

1567

The Peasant Wedding

1568

The Three Soldiers

1568

Related Artists