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Pieter Aertsen

Pieter Aertsen

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Pieter Aertsen (Amsterdam, 1508 – 3 June 1575), called Lange Pier ("Tall Pete") because of his height, was a Dutch painter in the style of Northern Mannerism. He is credited with the invention of the monumental genre scene, which combines still life and genre painting and often also includes a biblical scene in the background. He was active in his native city Amsterdam but also worked for a long period in Antwerp, then the centre of artistic life in the Netherlands.

His genre scenes were influential on later Flemish Baroque painting, Dutch still life painting and also in Italy. His peasant scenes preceded by a few years the much better-known paintings produced in Antwerp by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

He was apprenticed with Allaert Claesz. He then travelled to the Southern Netherlands and took up residence in Antwerp, first with his compatriot Jan Mandijn. Aertsen became a member of Antwerp's Guild of Saint Luke. In the official books of the Guild he is recorded as "Langhe Peter, schilder" (Tall Peter, painter). In 1542 he became a citizen (poorter) of Antwerp. He also got married to Kathelijne Beuckelaar, the daughter and sister of an Antwerp painter and aunt of Joachim Beuckelaer and Huybrecht Beuckeleer. Of the couple's eight children, three sons, Pieter, Aert, and Dirk became successful painters.

Aertsen returned to Amsterdam in 1555-56. Notable pupils who trained in his workshop included Stradanus and Aertsen's nephews, Joachim Beuckelaer and Huybrecht Beuckeleer. Joachim Beuckelaer continued and further developed Aertsen's style and subject matter of painting.

After beginning by painting religious works, in the 1550s he developed the painting of domestic scenes in which he reproduced articles of furniture, cooking utensils, and food with great flair and realism. His Butcher's Shop, with the Flight into Egypt (Uppsala, 1551) "has been called the earliest example of Mannerist inversion of still life in Northern painting", showing the "lower" subject matter far more prominently than the subject from history painting. A similar inversion in landscape painting had been developed by Joachim Patinir in Antwerp several decades earlier when he invented the world landscape. Unlike these, in Aertsen's works the genre material dominates the front of the image, with the history scene, normally religious, easy to overlook in the background. This pictorial technique drew on the paintings of another Antwerp artist, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, whose genre treatments of religious and moral scenes had smaller scenes inset into the background in a similar way.

In the Uppsala painting the zones behind the butcher's stall show (from left) a view through a window of a church, the Holy Family distributing alms on their journey, a worker in the mid-ground, with a merry company eating mussels and oysters (believed to promote lust) in a back room behind. The sign at top right advertises the land behind as for sale. The painting offers the viewer a range of options for life, in an allegory on physical and spiritual food. The painting carries the coat of arms of Antwerp, suggesting it was a civic commission, perhaps by the rich Butcher's Guild. Such subjects were mostly painted before about 1560.

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Pieter Aertsen Artworks
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