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Artists Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder Photo

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Flemish Artist and Engraver

Movement: Northern Renaissance

Born: 1525-30 - Near Breda, Netherlands

Died: September 9, 1569 - Brussels, Belgium

Pieter Bruegel the Elder Timeline

Quotes

"In a wonderful manner Nature found and seized the man who in his turn was destined to seize her magnificently, when in an obscure village in Brabant she chose from among the peasants, as the delineator of peasants, the witty and gifted Pieter Bruegel and made him a painter to the lasting glory of our Netherlands."
Karel van Mander
"[Bruegel] painted much that simply could not be painted. All of the works by our Bruegel always imply more than they depict."
Abraham Ortelius
"As a result of his creative power, formed by his own expertise, his own impressions and his own experiences, Pieter Bruegel was to become one of the great poets in the portrayal of landscape, nature, and man."
Wilfried Seipel
"In Bruegel's portrayal of men, diversity has been brought into harmony with nature; the individual has been absorbed into a great whole that stands behind and above everything."
Wilfried Seipel

"If he refused to portray humanity according to some ideal of formal beauty or in a light of a religious view of the universe, this is because he penetrated to the inner being of man and discovered its essential reality."

Arturo Bovi

Synopsis

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was an artist of the Northern Renaissance whose visually engrossing paintings offer a celebration of the common mass of humanity, in contrast to the pious religious painting which dominated much Renaissance art of the previous century. Born in what is now the Netherlands in the 1520s, reputedly into a peasant family, his work focuses on themes such as rural working life, religion and superstition, and the political and social intrigues of his day. These themes were tackled with an unmistakable, droll and often grotesque humor, an interest in the collective over the individual, and a healthy skepticism for narratives of great deeds and men. From the Dutch Golden Age painters of the following century to the Realists of nineteenth-century France and beyond, any artist who has cast their eye over their subject with an honesty debunking mythology works in the spirit of the man sometimes known as "Peasant Bruegel".

Key Ideas

Bruegel's most distinctive stylistic contribution to art history was a form of narrative composition in which a sprawling landscape is filled with a teeming mass of humanity, figures grouped together across the canvas to form various intersecting focal points. Reminiscent of his older countryman Hieronymus Bosch's surreal hellscapes, this approach set Bruegel apart from many Renaissance artists who favored more visually harmonious compositions, offering a snapshot of a lingering medieval view of human society as chaotic and unruly.
In accordance with his preference for large group compositions, Bruegel produced a series of mythological or historical paintings in which attention is drawn away from the nominal subject of the work towards the everyday life continuing all around it. In his Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, only a desultory pair of legs sinking into the water in the middle distance records the tragic hero's downfall. This represents a departure from the focus on heroic individuals common in Renaissance art, and suggests a sympathy with the common lot of humanity which has been recognized by artists and writers ever since.
Bruegel was also a pioneer of what would become known as "genre painting", scenes of everyday working life captured with honesty, empathy, and occasional bathetic humor. While he is loath to pay homage to Biblical and mythical heroes, he has far less compunction about representing peasant revelers at a wedding, for example, or a procession of blind beggars. In the centuries to come, notably through the work of Dutch artists of the following century, this focus on everyday life would become the basis of the artistic ethos known as Realism.

Biography

Pieter Bruegel the Elder Photo

Childhood and Education

Though he is considered one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance, little information exists about the childhood of Pieter Bruegel. All that is known for certain is that he was born Peeter Brueghel, into what many believe was a peasant family, in or near Breda in the Netherlands, between 1525 and 1530.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Interactive chart with Pieter Bruegel the Elder's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Pieter Coecke van Aelst
Pieter Aertsen
Giulio Clovio
Hieronymus Cock
Joachim Patinir

Personal Contacts

Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle
Niclaes Jonghelinck
Abraham Ortelius

Movements

RenaissanceRenaissance

Influences on Artist
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Years Worked: 1550 - 1568
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Pieter Aertsen
Joshua ReynoldsJoshua Reynolds
Rembrandt van RijnRembrandt van Rijn
Peter Paul RubensPeter Paul Rubens

Personal Contacts

Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle
Niclaes Jonghelinck
Karel van Mander
Abraham Ortelius

Movements

Landscape painting
Northern RenaissanceNorthern Renaissance
RealismRealism
Social RealismSocial Realism
NaturalismNaturalism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas
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