Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Bruegel's The Painter and The Connoisseur. drawn c. 1565 is thought to be a self-portrait.
Birth name Pieter Bruegel
Born c. 1525
Bree, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands (now Belgium)
Died 9 September 1569(1569-09-09) (age 44)
Brussels, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands (now Belgium)
Field Painting, printmaking
Movement Dutch and Flemish Renaissance
Works Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, The Hunters in the Snow, The Peasant Wedding

Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈpitəɾ ˈbɾøːɣəl]; c. 1525 – 9 September 1569) was a Flemish renaissance painter and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so called genre painting). He is sometimes referred to as the "Peasant Bruegel" to distinguish him from other members of the Brueghel dynasty, but he is also the one generally meant when the context does not make clear which Brueghel is being referred to. From 1559 he dropped the 'h' from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel.



According to some sources he was born in Breugel near the (now Dutch) town of Breda. There are however also records that he was born in Breda, and there is some uncertainty whether the (now Belgian) town of Bree, called Breda in Latin, is meant.[1] He was an apprentice of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, whose daughter Mayken he later married. He spent some time in France and Italy, and then went to Antwerp, where in 1551 he was accepted as a master in the painter's guild. He traveled to Italy soon after, and then returned to Antwerp before settling in Brussels permanently 10 years later.

He received the nickname 'Peasant Bruegel' or 'Bruegel the Peasant' for his alleged practice of dressing up like a peasant in order to mingle at weddings and other celebrations, thereby gaining inspiration and authentic details for his genre paintings. He died in Brussels on 9 September 1569 and was buried in the Kapellekerk. He was the father of Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Both became painters, but as they were very young children when their father died, it is believed neither received any training from him. According to Carel van Mander, it is likely that they were instructed by their grandmother Mayken Verhulst van Aelst, who was also an artist.


In Bruegel's later years he painted in a simpler style than the Italianate art that prevailed in his time. The most obvious influence on his art is the older Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch, particularly in Bruegel's early "demonological" paintings such as The Triumph of Death and Dulle Griet (Mad Meg). It was in nature, however, that he found his greatest inspiration as he is identified as being a master of landscapes. It was in these landscapes that Bruegel created a story, seeming to combine several scenes in one painting. Such works can be seen in The Fall of the Rebel Angels and the previously mentioned The Triumph of Death.


Bruegel specialized in genre paintings populated by peasants, often with a large landscape element, but also painted religious works. Making the life and manners of peasants the main focus of a work was rare in painting in Brueghel's time, and he was a pioneer of the Netherlandish genre painting. His earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and games—are unique windows on a vanished folk culture and a prime source of iconographic evidence about both physical and social aspects of 16th century life. For example, the painting Netherlandish Proverbs illustrates dozens of then-contemporary aphorisms (many of them still in use in current Dutch or Flemish), and Children's Games shows the variety of amusements enjoyed by young people. His winter landscapes of 1565 (e.g. Hunters in the Snow) are taken as corroborative evidence of the severity of winters during the Little Ice Age.

Using abundant spirit and comic power, he created some of the early images of acute social protest in art history. Examples include paintings such as The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (a satire of the conflicts of the Reformation) and engravings like The Ass in the School and Strongboxes Battling Piggybanks. On his deathbed he reportedly ordered his wife to burn the most subversive of his drawings to protect his family from political persecution.[2]


His painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is the subject of the poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W.H. Auden, and also of a poem by William Carlos Williams that also uses Bruegel's title.

Russian film director Andrei Tarkovksy referenced Bruegel's paintings in his films several times, notably in Solaris and The Mirror.

His 1564 painting "The Procession to Calvary" inspired a 2011 film, "The Mill and the Cross", in which Bruegel is played by Rutger Hauer.


There are about 45 authenticated surviving paintings, one third of which are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A number of others are known to have been lost. There are a large number of drawings. Brueghel only etched one plate himself, The Rabbit Hunt, but designed many engravings and etchings, mostly for the Cock publishing house.


  • Large Fish Eat Small Fish, 1556, a print after a Bruegel design

Family tree

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Jan Brueghel the Elder
Ambrosius Brueghel
Jan Brueghel the Younger
Anna Brueghel
David Teniers the Younger
Abraham Brueghel

Other members of the family include Pieter van Aelst and Mayken Verhulst (father-in-law and mother-in-law to Pieter Bruegel the Elder), Jan van Kessel, senior (grandson of Jan Bruegel the Elder) and Jan van Kessel, junior. Through David Teniers, the family is also related to the whole Teniers family of painters and the Quellinus family of painters and sculptors, since Jan-Erasmus Quellinus married Cornelia, daughter of David Teniers the Younger.


  1. ^ Grove Art Online
  2. ^ Mayor, A. Hyatt. Prints & People: A Social History of Printed Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971, 426.
  3. ^ Masterpieces of the Brukenthal Collection
  4. ^ (Het journaal 1–11/11/09). "deredactie.be". Vrtnieuws.net. http://www.vrtnieuws.net/cm/vrtnieuws.net/cultuurmedia/kunsten/071017Icarus_nietauthentiek. Retrieved 12 November 2009. [dead link]

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder — n. Pieter Bruegel (1525 1569) Flemish painter and engraver, creator of Peasant Wedding …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Pieter Brueghel the Elder — noun Flemish painter of landscapes (1525 1569) • Syn: ↑Brueghel, ↑Breughel, ↑Bruegel, ↑Pieter Brueghel, ↑Pieter Breughel, ↑Pieter Bruegel, ↑Breughel the Elder • Instance Hype …   Useful english dictionary

  • Bruegel, Pieter, the Elder — born с 1525, probably Breda, duchy of Brabant died Sept. 5/9, 1569, Brussels Greatest Netherlandish painter of the 16th century. Not much is known of his early life, but in 1551 he set off for Italy, where he produced his earliest signed painting …   Universalium

  • Bruegel, Jan, The Elder — ▪ Flemish painter byname  Velvet Bruegel,  Dutch  Jan Bruegel De Oudere, or Fluwelen Bruegel, Bruegel  also spelled  Brueghel, or Breughel  born 1568, Brussels [now in Belgium] died Jan. 13, 1625, Antwerp       Flemish painter known for his still …   Universalium

  • Pieter Bruegel l'Ancien — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Bruegel. Pieter Bruegel l Ancien Autoportrait …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Bruegel, Pieter, II, The Younger — ▪ Flemish artist byname  Hell Bruegel,  Dutch  Pieter Bruegel Ii De Jongere, or Helse Bruegel, Bruegel  also spelled  Brueghel, or Breughel  born 1564, Brussels [now in Belgium] died 1638, Antwerp       Flemish painter of rustic and religious… …   Universalium

  • Bruegel the Elder, Pieter — (c. 1525 1569)    Bruegel is thought to have been born in the town of Bruegel near Breda, now Holland, from which he received his name. He studied with Pieter Coecke, whose daughter he married. When Coecke died in 1550, Bruegel moved to Antwerp… …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

  • Pieter Bruegel — n. Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 1569) Flemish painter and engraver, creator of Peasant Wedding …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Pieter Brueghel the Younger — (1564 or 1565 ndash; 1636) was a Flemish painter, known for numerous copies after his father Pieter Brueghel the Elder s paintings and nicknamed Hell Brueghel for his fantastic treatments of fire and grotesque imagery.Although his precise date of …   Wikipedia

  • Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder — Gheeraert s birds eye view of Bruges, Flanders in 1562 …   Wikipedia

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