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Peter Bruegel the Elder biography

Facts about Pieter Bruegel the Elder bio,life & paintings

Pieter Bruegel Elder was the most important and exciting painter of Northern Europe during the mid 16th century. He was also referred to as “peasant Bruegel” reflecting his taste for peasant life,proverbs and genre scenes, topics from the New Testament set in the contemp-
orary Flanders.

His date and place of birth are uncertain. However generally he is said to have been born near Breda between 1525 and 1530. His name was written as “Brueghel” until 1559 became ‘Bruegel’ for unknown reasons though his sons retained the ‘h’ in their names.

Pieter Cock van Aelst (1502-1550) took him as apprentice. Van Aelst was a leading artist, sculptor, architect and tapestry and stained glass designer in Antwerp whose daughter Bruegel married later. In 1551 Bruegel was made Master of the Antwerp Guild. Between 1552 and 1554 he went abroad visiting Southern Italy: Reggio, Calabria, Messina, Palermo and Naples. Next year he visited Rome. There he met well known miniature-painter Giulio Clovio
who made a small scale picture of the Tower of Babel on ivory and a view of Lyons(France). Both works are no longer in sight. Before returning to Netherlands he visited Switzerland where he painted several pictures of the Alps.

On his return to Antwerp in 1554-55 Bruegel started working for Hieronymus Cock(1510-70) the Antwerp engraver and maker of prints. Bruegel’s pictures of the Alps formed the subject of a number of elaborate designs(1555 onwards) but were engraved by the other artists.

Cock was impressed with Bruegel’s works and employed him at figure compositions too. Of these the series THE SEVEN DEADLY DEADLY SINS(1556-57) and THE BIG FISH EAT LITTLE FISH(engraved by Van der Heyden 1557) are typical early examples. For the rest of his life Bruegel did painting and print designs.

In 1563 Bruegel was married to Mayken, daughter of Pieter Cock and Verhulst Bessemers. Verhulst too was a painter engaged in miniatures. Later after the death of her son in law she gave his two sons(Pieter and Jan) their first lessons in painting. The couple settled in Brussels. Their first son(future painter) Bruegel the Younger was born in 1564. At this time Pieter became a friend of a wealthy Antwerp merchant Nicolaes Jonghellinck who eventually made a collection of 16 of Bruegel’s works. He commissioned a series THE MONTHS. Unfortunately only 5 of the 12 are existing: THE HUNTERS IN THE SNOW(Jan), THE GLOOMY DAY(Feb), HAYMAKING(July), THE CORN HARVEST(Aug), and THE RETURN OF THE HERD(Nov).

Their second son Jan was born in 1568. He also became a painter. Italian Renaissance art influenced Bruegel in the last six years of his life. He was attracted by the monumentality of form; eg THE PEASANT WEDDING, THE PEASANT DANCE and THE PEASANT BIRDNESTER with figures larger in scale and closer to the viewer. Bruegel continued to produce miniatures in a panoramic space.

In September 1569 Bruegel died and was interned in Notre Dame de la Chapelle, Brussels. In 1578 Maykel died and their orphaned children were brought up by their grandmother. Less than 50 of Bruegel’s pictures exist today.


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(1525/30-1569)

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