pieter bruegel birthday
There is but little information about his life. According to Carel van Mander’s Het Schilderboeck (Book of Painters), published in Amsterdam in 1604 (35 years after Bruegel’s death), Bruegel was apprenticed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst, a leading Antwerp artist who had located in Brussels. The head of a large workshop, Coecke was a sculptor, architect, and designer of tapestry and stained glass who had traveled in Italy and in Turkey. Although Bruegel’s earliest surviving works show no stylistic dependence on Coecke’s Italianate art, connections with Coecke’s compositions can be detected in later years, particularly after 1563, when Bruegel married Coecke’s daughter Mayken. In any case, the apprenticeship with Coecke represented an early contact with a humanistic milieu. Through Coecke, Bruegel became linked indirectly to another tradition as well. Coecke’s wife, Maria Verhulst Bessemers, was a painter known for her work in watercolour or tempera, a suspension of pigments in egg yolk or a glutinous substance, on linen. The technique was widely practiced in her hometown of Mechelen (Malines) and was later employed by Bruegel. It is also in the works of Mechelen’s artists that allegorical and peasant thematic material first appear. These subjects, unusual in Antwerp, were later treated by Bruegel. In 1551 or 1552 Bruegel set off on the customary northern artist’s journey to Italy, probably by way of France. From several extant paintings, drawings, and etchings, it can be deduced that he traveled beyond Naples to Sicily, possibly as far as Palermo, and that in 1553 he lived for some time in Rome, where he worked with a celebrated miniaturist, Giulio Clovio, an artist greatly influenced by Michelangelo and later a patron of the young El Greco. The inventory of Clovio’s estate shows that he owned a number of paintings and drawings by Bruegel as well as a miniature done by the two artists in collaboration. It was in Rome in 1553 that Bruegel produced his earliest signed and dated painting, Landscape with Christ and the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberias. The holy figures in this painting were probably done by Maarten de Vos, a painter from Antwerp then working in Italy.
Bruegel was to work for Cock until his last years, but from 1556 on he concentrated, surprisingly enough, on satirical, didactic, and moralizing subjects, often in the fantastic or grotesque manner of Hiëronymus Bosch, imitations of whose works were very popular at the time. Other artists were content with a more or less close imitation of Bosch, but Bruegel’s inventiveness lifted his designs above mere imitation, and he soon found ways to express his ideas in a much different manner. His early fame rested on prints published by Cock after such designs. But the new subject matter and the interest in the human figure did not lead to the abandonment of landscape. Bruegel in fact extended his explorations in this field. Side by side with his mountain compositions, he began to draw the woods of the countryside; he turned then to Flemish villages and, in 1562, to townscapes with the towers and gates of Amsterdam.
In 1556 Bruegel entered the house of the Antwerp publisher Hieronymus Cock as a designer for engravings. His pen drawing of that year entitled Big Fish Eat Little Fish was published in 1557 as an engraving by Cock, who substituted Bosch’s name for Bruegel‘s in order to exploit the fashion for Bosch’s works then current at Antwerp. The series Seven Deadly Sins, engraved in 1558, however, carries the artist’s own signature, a sign of Bruegel’s increasing importance. In these works Bruegel, unlike any of his Antwerp contemporaries, achieved a truly creative synthesis of Bosch’s demonic symbolism with his own personal vision of human folly and depravity. Despite efforts to dismiss these engravings as “fascinating drolleries,” there is evidence to suggest that Bruegel was attempting to substitute a new and more relevant eschatology for Bosch’s traditional view of the Christian cosmos.
In Bruegel’s earliest signed and dated painting, the Combat of Carnival and Lent (1559), the influence of Bosch is still strongly felt. The high-horizoned landscape, the decorative surface patterning, and many of the iconographic details derive from the earlier Dutch master. There is, however, a new sensitivity to color, particularly in the use of bright, primary hues, and a rhythmic organization of forms that is uniquely Bruegel’s. This painting, the Netherlandish Proverbs (1559), and the highly involved Children’s Games (1560) form the body of the early “encyclopedic” works which, despite their superficial gaiety, have been shown to be allegories of a foolish and sinful world.
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Pieter Bruegel’s pictures are very detailed; some of them remind you of today’s popular seek-and-find picture books.
The Madonna di Loreto has gone down as a scandal, but watch out. It is way too easy to assimilate it to modern myths—of the lone artistic genius set against tradition and the crowd. Yet Rome greeted it with applause. Another painter, Giovanni Baglione, saw a scandal in just that acclaim, but then he had his own axe to grind. He had had his rival imprisoned for libel. Caravaggio, then, was setting himself not apart, but in the midst of career, class, and culture wars.
So which is it? If the contrast of periods seems a little confusing, they were coined, after all, for Italy, and this is a very different culture and a different art. Even Bruegel’s asymmetry looks ahead, by taking a painting into depth, as with the grand diagonal of the hunters. He is leading the way to the Baroque. While both are moralists, Bosch is a visionary, and Bruegel is more and more engaged with a vision of life. This and the hunters come much later than his busiest and most anecdotal paintings at that—amid the late warmth and feeling of harvest scenes and a smaller peasant wedding.