pieter bruegel the elder paintings
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”.
From 1555 until 1563, Bruegel lived in Antwerp, then the publishing centre of northern Europe, mainly working as a designer of over forty prints for Cock, though his dated paintings begin in 1557.  With one exception, Bruegel did not work the plates himself, but produced a drawing which Cock’s specialists worked from. He moved in the lively Humanist circles of the city, and his change of name (or at least its spelling) in 1559 can be seen as an attempt to Latinize it; at the same time he changed the script he signed in from the Gothic blackletter to Roman capitals. 
Over the years, the Fall of Icarus has been contested by art critics as to whether it is truly an original work by Bruegel, or a copy. Though numerous tests have led to mixed results, what can be inferred is that due to the the painting being transferred from panel to canvas, the process left the current work damaged. Whether it be an original work of Bruegel’s or not remains a mystery for the art historians and critics, yet the rest of the world will continue to marvel at this masterful painting at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels.
As the mythological tale goes, Icarus and his father Daedalus planned to flee Crete, and in order to escape, they formulated a plan that involved constructing homemade wings out of feathers and wax. Yet Daedalus warns Icarus that the wings he created are not durable if he flies too close to the sun. Ignoring his father’s words, Icarus does, indeed, end up in danger as his wings quickly begin to melt away, sending him plummeting into the sea below.
In Brussels, Bruegel produced his greatest paintings but only few designs for engravings, for the connection with Hiëronymus Cock may have become less close after Bruegel left Antwerp. Another reason for the concentration on painting may have been his growing success in this field. Among his patrons was Antione Perrenot Cardinal de Granvelle, president of the council of state in the Netherlands, in whose palace in Brussels the sculptor Jacques Jonghelinck had a studio. He and Bruegel had traveled in Italy at the same time, and his brother, a rich Antwerp collector, Niclaes, was Bruegel’s greatest patron, having by 1566 acquired 16 of his paintings. Another patron was Abraham Ortelius, who in a memorable obituary called Bruegel the most perfect artist of the century. Most of his paintings were done for collectors.
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.
Early in his career, Bruegel drew influence from the Flemish landscape artist Joachim Patinir, who also created paintings which seem to recede telescopically away from the eye. Expanding on Patinir’s style, Bruegel’s focus on landscape as a self-sufficient subject-matter had a profound impact on the development of modern art, including landscape painting of the Romantic and Naturalist movements. The exaggerated perspectival style of works like Hunters in the Snow, meanwhile, prefigures all subsequent landscape painting in which the conventional, post-Renaissance three-dimensional perspective is eschewed.
Oil on wood – Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan
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.
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.