The Peasant Wedding – Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The name Bruegel very likely creates a visualisation in our mind of paintings of very busy landscapes populated with peasants, village life and of the foolishness and absurdity of humans.
Although Bruegel did paint religious subjects also (one example is The Conversion of Paul), he remains most famous for his vivid and very detailed sceneries of 16th-century folk culture, such as The Peasant Wedding, the Blind leading the Blind, and Netherlandish Proverbs.
His social engagement of protest in some of his works, such as The Fight between Carnival and Lent, is remarkable, seen to the background of the Protestant Reformation (started by Luther in 1517) but was possibly hazardous to him and his family as well, reason for him to ask his wife on his deathbed to destroy part of his satirical drawings. Or should we say political cartoons?
Two sources mention that Bruegel was born in or close to the city of Breda in Brabant, his birth year is believed to lie between 1525 and 1530. He is thought to have been a pupil of the Antwerp painter Pieter Coecke, as he is mentioned to have entered the Guild of Painters in Antwerp in 1551. He married Coeckes daughter Maria or Mayken later on.
Bruegel traveled to Italy, amongst other to Rome, in 1552 / 1553 and came back to Antwerp 2 years later, with a good number of mountain and landscape drawings. He died in 1569 and left two sons Pieter (known as Brueghel the Younger) and Jan Brueghel the Elder, who were trained by their grandmother Mayken Verhulst, the widow of Pieter Coecke.
At the time Bruegel was born, a wave of changes went through Europe. Humanist ideas had a large influence on universities and scholars and on the artistic world too. Martin Luther presented his theses in Germany starting Protestant Reformation, with a number of followers in the Low Countries, where the Spanish Habsburg kings tried to strictly impose the Catholic faith, which then, two years before Bruegel’s death, lead to the period now known as the 80 Years’ war. As a result, seven provinces gained independence and established the Dutch Republic.
Bruegel worked in 1556 for the then famous Antwerp publisher Hieronymous Cock and had huge success with his series of The Virtues and The Seven Deadly Sins allegories.
Until today, art historians still dispute if his Months of the Year, a series of paintings ordered in 1565 by the very rich Antwerp patron Jonghelinck, consisted of 6 or 12 works, as only 5 have survived. These panels, painted in the tradition of the Books of Hours by Bosch, the Limburg brothers, and others, are based on the cycle of men and the labors of the seasons and are regarded by some as Bruegel’s most beautifully executed works.
Bruegel moved to Brussels in 1563 and lived there until his death in 1569, and the works he created in this last and very productive period of his life established his name as one of the greatest Netherlands painters with a profound insight of the relation between men and nature, for example in his paintings of the Months of the Year, and his allegories of mankind in a world full of fools, folly and sins, like the Netherlands Proverbs and the Tower of Babel.
The Peasant Wedding (Boerenbruiloft) is held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Austria)
The Netherlands Proverbs (Nederlandse Spreekwoorden) is in The GemäldeGalerie in Berlin
Reproductions on Amazon
The Peasant Wedding – by 1stArtGallery
slightly darker than the original
no nonsense money-back-guarantee
Netherlandish Proverbs – reproduction by 1st ArtGallery
well detailed reproduction of all proverb scenes
the larger sizes reveal even more details of the artists’ skills
The painting was originally named The Blue Cloak, referring to a scene in the middle of the painting with a woman whose places a blue cloak on her husband, indicating she is playing adultery on him.
It is hilarious to search and follow the around 112 sayings and proverbs in the painting with for instance the well- documented list on Wikipedia.
Today the Dutch (Netherlandish) language is still one of the richest languages in sayings and proverbs.
This video is one the many great video’s on youtube available on the subject (Beethoven choice is odd though)
The Tower of Babel (painted in 1563) is thought to symbolise the emptiness of human ambition and commercial spirit in the city of Antwerp at Bruegel’s time.
Find a good reproduction of the Tower of Babel at 1st-art-gallery.com
Fritz Grossmann – Bruegel: The Paintings