Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bruegel, Pieter the Elder

The Wedding Dance
oil on panel
119.4 × 157.5 cm
Museum Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA

This painting is believed to be one of a set of three Bruegel works from around the same time, The Wedding Dance, The Peasant Wedding and The Peasant Dance. It depicts 125 wedding guests. As was customary in the Renaissance period, the brides wore black and men wore codpieces. Dancing was tabooed at the time by the authorities and the church, and the painting can be seen as both a critique and comic depiction of a stereotypical peasant class of the times.

Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder (c.1525 - 1569) was a Flemish Renaissance painter, generally considered the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century. 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.

Making the life and manners of peasants the main focus of a work was rare in painting in Bruegel's time, and he was a pioneer of the Netherlandish genre painting. He developed an original style that uniformly holds narrative, or story-telling, meaning. In subject matter he ranged widely, from conventional Biblical scenes and parables of Christ to such mythological portrayals as Landscape with the Fall of Icarus; religious allegories in the style of Hieronymus Bosch; and social satires. But it was in nature that he found his greatest inspiration. His paintings, including his landscapes and scenes of peasant life, stress the absurd and vulgar, yet are full of zest and fine detail. They also expose human weaknesses and follies. Using abundant spirit and comic power, he created some of the early images of acute social protest in art history. On his deathbed he reportedly ordered his wife to burn the most subversive of his drawings to protect his family from political persecution.

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. Bruegel died in Brussels between Sept. 5 and 9, 1569. Popular in his own day, his works have remained consistently popular.