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Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Brueghel de Oude

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Brueghel de Oude

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Pieter Brueghel the Elder was an innovative Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker, known for his sweeping landscapes and peasant scenes. He was apprenticed early in his life to painter Pieter Croecke van Aelst, and in 1551 around the age of 26 he as accepted into a painter’s guild in Antwerp as a master painter.

His nickname was “Peasant Brueghel,” as he would often don peasant’s clothing and attend social gatherings and weddings, in order to mingle and interact with the locals, and gain insight and inspiration for his paintings. He also fathered two other prominent Flemish painters, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder, although it is thought that they were not taught by their father, as he died when they were young children.

As a pioneer in Netherlandish genre painting, he portrayed social aspects of 16th century life, many of which were paintings of peasants, with a large landscape element. Many of his works show the influence of Heironymous Bosch, the Dutch master painter. He also created some of the earliest form of social commentary in his paintings, and reportedly asked while laying on his deathbed to have the most subversive of the paintings burned, in order for his family to avoid political persecution.

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Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel) the Elder (Dutch: [ˈpitər ˈbrøːɣəɫ]; c. 1525-1530 – 9 September 1569) was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter and printmaker from Brabant, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so called genre painting); he was a pioneer in making both types of subject the focus in large paintings.

He was a formative influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and later painting in general in his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the natural subject matter of painting. He also painted no portraits, the other mainstay of Netherlandish art. After his training and travels to Italy, he returned in 1555 to settle in Antwerp, where he worked mainly as a prolific designer of prints for the leading publisher of the day. Only towards the end of the decade did he switch to make painting his main medium, and all his famous paintings come from the following period of little more than a decade before his early death, when he was probably in his early forties, and at the height of his powers.

As well as looking forwards, his art reinvigorates medieval subjects such as marginal drolleries of ordinary life in illuminated manuscripts, and the calendar scenes of agricultural labours set in landscape backgrounds, and puts these on a much larger scale than before, and in the expensive medium of oil painting. He does the same with the fantastic and anarchic world developed in Renaissance prints and book illustrations.

He is sometimes referred to as "Peasant Bruegel", to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638). From 1559, he dropped the 'h' from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel; his relatives continued to use "Brueghel" or "Breughel".

The two main early sources for Bruegel's biography are Lodovico Guicciardini's account of the Low Countries (1567) and Karel van Mander's 1604 Schilder-boeck. Guicciardini recorded that Bruegel was born in Breda, but van Mander specified that Bruegel was born in a village near Breda called "Brueghel", which does not fit any known place. Nothing at all is known of his family background. Van Mander seems to assume he came from a peasant background, in keeping with the over-emphasis on Bruegel's peasant genre scenes given by van Mander and many early art historians and critics.

In contrast, scholars of the last 60 years have emphasized the intellectual content of his work, and conclude: "There is, in fact, every reason to think that Pieter Bruegel was a townsman and a highly educated one, on friendly terms with the humanists of his time", ignoring van Mander's dorf and just placing his childhood in Breda itself. Breda was already a significant centre as the base of the House of Orange-Nassau, with a population of some 8,000, although 90% of the 1300 houses were destroyed in a fire in 1534. However, this reversal can be taken to excess; although Bruegel moved in highly educated humanist circles, it seems "he had not mastered Latin", and had others add the Latin captions in some of his drawings.

This is a part of the Wikipedia article used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). The full text of the article is here →


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