Brueghel the Elder, Pieter

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Brueghel the Elder, Pieter


(also, Peasant Brueghel—Brueghel de Oude or Boeren Brueghel). Born circa 1525-30, in Breda or the village of Brueghel; died Sept. 5, 1569, in Brussels. Dutch painter and graphic artist.

Brueghel visited Italy in 1552 and 1553 and then worked in Antwerp and, from 1563 on, in Brussels. One of the founders of Flemish and Dutch realistic art, he powerfully and completely reflected in his works the life and moods of the masses of people at the time of the approaching Netherlands bourgeois revolution. Brueghel was a broadly educated artist and humanist who creatively transformed what he had learned from Italian painting into a deeply national art, based primarily on the traditions and local folklore of the Netherlands. He drew on cheap popular prints and leaflets for his themes (Children’s Games, 1560, Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna). He made frequent use of proverbs and parables to express in allegorical form profound reflections on the fate of the country and the nation (The Country of Cockaigne, 1567, Old Pinakothek, Munich). In his works are intricately interwoven humor and tragedy, a delicate lyricism, the highly fantastic and grotesque, a profusion of bizarre detail, and a tendency toward epic scope and wide, synthesized paintings depicting universal themes.

The main hero of Brueghel’s art is the mass of people. In his satirical and genre drawings (often done for engraving) and his religious, allegorical, and genre paintings, he attacks social injustice and oppression (usually obliquely) and depicts the working conditions and the plight of the people, their love of freedom, and their distinctive way of life. From satirical moralizing drawings filled with fantastic figures in the style of H. Bosch and from activity-filled canvases painted in vivid color, such as The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559) and the Procession to Calvary (1564) in the Museum of Fine Arts in Vienna, Brueghel turned in the mid-1560’s to more generalized paintings of peasant life and landscapes, characterized by powerful and realistic expressiveness of forms, a completeness and monumental effect of composition, and a special blending of design and coloring. The full richness of his patches of color and the expressiveness of his silhouettes are combined with spatial breadth and a delicate sensation of tonal unity, of light and air. Using his medium sparingly but boldly, Brueghel pictured the crude simplicity, dignity, and strength of his figures (The Peasant Wedding and The Peasant Dance, Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna). As a creator of national realistic landscapes he depicted the endless stretches of plain and live nature at different seasons together with the toiling people settled within it (A Gloomy Day, The Return of the Herd, Hunters in the Snow, all in the Museum of Fine Arts, Vienna, and The Harvesters, Metropolitan Museum, New York, all painted in 1565). The suffering of the people under the Spanish yoke, war and devastation, hunger and death, and the brutality of the Spaniards are depicted in many of his paintings (The Massacre of the Innocents, Hampton Court, London, and The Census at Bethlehem, 1566, Museum of Ancient Art, Brussels). The bloody Spanish terror evoked in Brueghel feelings of grief and despair, which he expressed either in the fantastic paintings of horror and madness (Dulle Griet, 1562, Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp), in bitter allegories (The Magpie on the Gallows, 1568, Hessian State Museum, Darmstadt), or through tragic subjects that are striking in the profundity of their thought and in their truthfulness (The Blind Leading the Blind, 1568, National Museum and Gallery of Capodimonte, Naples).


Alpatov, M. Piter Breigel’ Muzhitskii. Moscow, 1939.
Klimov, R. Piter Breigel’. Moscow, 1959.
Bastelaar, R. van, and G. Hulin de Loo. Peter Bruegel L’ Ancien, son oeuvre et son temps, vols. 1-2. Brussels, 1906-1907.
Grossmann, F. Peeter Brueghel. London-Florence, 1956.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
This brilliant legacy, become familial burden, framed the life and work of Jan Brueghel the Elder, Pieter Bruegel's (1) son, and his sons after him.
Just as modern-day comic artists dab brilliant inks onto paper, many of the great Flemish masters--Hans Memling, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Pieter Paul Rubens and others--swashed oil paint across canvas to tell stories of politics, religion and faith, love and honor.