BRUEGEL (BRUEGHEL), Pieter

(c. 1526/27-1569)
Pieter Bruegel, a painter and graphic artist, was the first and most outstanding member of several generations of artists in his family. He was born near Breda in the Netherlands. Both the contemporary Italian art historian Giorgio Vasari* and Bruegel's fellow countryman Karel van Mander mention Bruegel; van Man­der describes the artist as "Pier den Droll" because his works always evoked laughter.
Bruegel may have trained with Pieter Coecke van Aelst,* whose daughter he married a number of years later. However, more significant for his artistic de­velopment were his years spent between 1555 and 1563 with the printer Hi­eronymus Cock, for whom he designed engravings. Some of the prints produced in Cock's shop Bruegel engraved in the style of Hieronymus Bosch, the Dutch artist of the previous generation famous for his phantasmagoric scenes.
Although Bruegel painted religious scenes, the traditional subject of most paintings up to his generation, he was best known in his own time and is still known today for his realistic depictions of folklore and peasant life, neither condescending nor sentimental in vein. Several large paintings, which the artist may have intended as a series, catalog courtship and marriage. The group in­cludes a kermis, or peasant festival, and a Peasant Wedding Feast where the nuptial feast takes place in a barn, with puddings and pies distributed to the guests from a barn door. The series, painted between 1566 and 1568, concludes with a jubilant, romping Peasant Dance.
In an earlier series (1565) of paintings depicting the seasons, peasants engage in various timely labors: hunting, haymaking, and harvesting corn. These scenes capture the essence of each period of the year, particularly in Hunters in the Snow, a painting that evokes better than any painting before that time the frosty, icy chill of winter in its dark forms and figures set against a stark white and silvery gray landscape. By contrast, in Wheat Harvest, summer shimmers in an even golden light, with bright patches of red and orange dotting the parched yellow swathes of wheat to suggest the broiling heat of midday. Bruegel further displayed his virtuosity by painting scenes teeming with life and activity in encyclopedic works, such as his Children's Games of 1560 describing a great variety of youthful pastimes and his earlier work of 1559, Netherlandish Prov­erbs, showing the myriad follies of adults.
Bruegel's biographer, Karel van Mander, asserted that the artist liked to dress up as a peasant and participate in peasant activities. However, Bruegel was almost certainly well educated; we know that he traveled throughout Italy be­tween 1551 and 1554, and he counted among his colleagues the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, the publisher Christopher Plantin, the humanist Dirck Coorn-hert,* and the poet Dominicus Lampsonius. Wealthy merchants, Cardinal An­toine de Granvelle, and the Habsburg royal family collected Bruegel's work - many of the artist's best-known works are today in the Vienna Kunsthistonisches Museum.
Bruegel was one of the most intriguing artists of the sixteenth century, and his influence lived after him, not only through the work of his sons, artists who became well known in their own right, but through other artists who emulated his style, in particular Bruegel's genre and landscape scenes. Some later artists even spuriously signed their drawings or engravings as by Bruegel, presumably because such works demanded higher prices.
Scholars still debate whether or not Bruegel's works held hidden political or religious meaning. According to van Mander, he instructed his wife to burn many of his works shortly before he died in 1569 because he thought that they might put his family in jeopardy.
Bibliography
Walter S. Gibson, Bruegel, 1977.
Susan H. Jenson

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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