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Pieter Bruegel the Elder Biography and Paintings

Unlike his contemporaries, Pieter Bruegel the Elder reflected the joy and pain of mortal beings in his works. While every one of his contemporaries draws the most ideal states of beings, he has made that flying egg, a cake that walks by himself.

It is not known exactly where and when Pieter Bruegel the Elder was born. This information about his life, that is, the place and time of his birth, will be a very insignificant detail for you when you realize the value and beauty of the works Pieter Bruegel has given to the history of art.



The Life of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Paintings


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Biography and Paintings

Pieter Bruegel the Elder Biography and Paintings


Is it funny or tragic?

When you first look at the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, it may seem a little simple and even funny. When you keep looking at the pictures and concentrate on your attention, you will be greeted by a drama lying deep in the ground that will make you chill. As soon as you feel this drama, the cynical smile on your face suddenly disappears.

In his paintings, beautiful princesses and magnificent bodies have left their places to peasants, beggars, the blind, and the disabled with plump faces and bow legs.



Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Life Story Through the Rumors

Almost all of what is said about Pieter Bruegel’s life is guesswork. That is why art historians have chosen to put aside his life and pay attention directly to his works.

It is a very interesting detail that he made all his works in just seven years. The most successful subject in his works in this short period of time is undoubted that he reflects a very good accounting of humane feelings in his works.

If it is difficult to name him as Pieter Bruegel, we can just call him Bruegel. I’m sure he wouldn’t be upset by that either.

It is estimated that Bruegel was born in 1525. His place of birth is not known, but it is most likely that he was born in the village of Bruegel, near Hertogenbch, north of Brabant Province.

The most important and perhaps the only record of the life of Pieter Bruegel the Elder is the document showing his admission to the Antwerp City Painters Association in 1551. He has his own signature under these documents.

He traveled to Italy between 1551-1555. It is among the rumors that he stayed in Lyon for a short time on his way back.

Bruegel, who made landscape engravings in the first years of his art, only produced works in engraving form until 1562. Interestingly, after this date, he suddenly turned to oil painting.


Ice Skating before the Gate of Saint George, 1559(or 1558) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


He married in 1563, which probably took place with his master’s daughter.

In 1564, Bruegel took his wife and settled in Brussels. The city council ordered him a painting, but Bruegel died in 1569 before he had a brushstroke on it.

Here’s all we know about Bruegel’s life.


Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Paintings

Pieter Bruegel the Elder shared the same fate with the artists of his time. Although his works were admired by some at that time, he was ridiculed and despised by some.

The Dutch critic Karel van Mander says: “Among them, one can only look at a few without laughing or at least not smiling.”

Besides those who mock and despise him, there were also those who give him the value he deserves. There were also buyers of Bruegel’s paintings, which had a very unusual style for that period.


Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, 1560 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


After Bruegel’s death, it became the focus of attention in the 16th and 17th centuries, but somehow it was almost forgotten in the 18th century. In the 19th century, a big name Baudelaire praised him.

At the end of the 1800s, it regained its deserved value.

Since there are very few official documents about Pieter Bruegel’s life, there are many rumors about his life. One of them is the claim that he is a peasant since he constantly includes villages and peasants in his works.

After his brief visit to Italy, he was claimed to be a representative of the Renaissance. It is even said among the rumors that he was a representative of Platonic philosophy.

In our opinion, Bruegel’s travel to Italy was because he studied Renaissance painting closely and wanted to open a front against this trend.

What sets Bruegel apart from Bosch and Jan van Eyck, whose contemporaries we can refer to as other representatives of the Flemish School, is that Bruegel never worked for the church.

It is also technically different from both. For Bruegel, the most attractive subject was everyday life. He had portrayed daily life with all its naturalness.

The important secret about Bruegel’s paintings is why he placed the figures he painted in his works on a single line, although he knew perspective very well.

So why didn’t he apply the rules of perspective?

One possibility is that he wanted to break all the rules set by Renaissance painting. Although he depicts the life of the period he lived in his works, his paintings are technically close to Medieval paintings.



Was Pieter Bruegel the Elder First Socialist in the History?

One of the most important events of Bruegel’s short life was the Spanish occupation of Flandre, the province in which he lived. The artist observed the people of the occupied country very well and transferred them to his works.

His paintings are generally dominated by humor.

His works do not contain the splendor of ideal beauty like Renaissance art. When you examine all the figures that seem imperfect, it is possible to see joy, sadness, and misery in each figure separately. While drawing these figures, the artist particularly avoided giving them an aesthetic structure.

It simply connects emotions and leaves everything else to the viewers. In his works, the event does not revolve around a single person. There is no leading role in his works. He is like a cinema director who has won many awards with his films full of extras.

Pieter Bruegel started out as a landscape painter.

His start to include figures in his paintings corresponds to after his trip to Italy. Bruegel spent days drawing these figures among the public, whom he thought of adding to his works. Perhaps this is why they convey their feelings so simply and effectively.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder is almost telling us stories with his paintings.

Few of “The Series of the Months“, known to have received orders four years before his death, have survived.

  • The Hunters in the Snow (January), 1565


Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Hunters in the Snow (January), 1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


  • Gloomy Day (February), 1565


Gloomy Day (February), 1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


  • Haymaking (July), 1565


Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Haymaking (July), 1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


  • The Corn Harvest (August), 1565

The Corn Harvest (August), 1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


In the August painting, a wonderful yellow color that reflects the season and the peasants in the foreground stand out.


  • The Return of the Herd (November), 1565


Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Return of the Herd (November), 1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


The Census in Bethlehem, thought to have been painted in 1566, is a winter scene. On a snowy day, which is obviously very cold, the people who are broken by poverty, saying that we are there, we are trying to maintain our existence, literally move towards the civil servant to prove their existence.


Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Census in Bethlehem, 1566 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


Footed Egg, Flying Pomegranate, Walking Cake

In the painting ‘The Land of Cockaigne‘, dated 1567, an old folk story is depicted. We find the figures in an environment where everything is designed to be enjoyable.

A soldier, a peasant, a clerk are sprawled out. Symbols such as the book, glasses, sickle, and spear give us clues about the people lying down. The work includes flying pomegranate, fried chicken, footed eggs and finally walking cakes.

A half-eaten egg in its shell runs between the clerk and the peasant. The table attached to the tree is laden with partly consumed food and drink. Behind the tree, a roasted fowl lays itself upon a silver platter, implying that it is ready to be eaten, and a roasted pig runs about with a carving knife already slipped under its skin.


The Land of Cockaigne, 1567 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Land of Cockaigne, 1567 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


Who does the madness in this work remind you of from recent painters? Think about it.

It reminds us of Salvador Dali.

The Blind Leading the Blind, which he completed one year before his death, is one of the best examples of human tragedy.

It has a biblical subject. It is told about a community of the blind going towards death in a miserable state. People literally shudder in front of these people. It is quite meaningful that the artist included a church in the background. Those poor people go to the grave, but religion and life continue where they left off.


The Blind Leading the Blind, 1568 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Blind Leading the Blind, 1568 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


Bruegel might indeed be the first socialist in history.

As long as the world exists, people will admire Bruegel’s paintings.

Thank you.


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