Bruegel: Discerning Wisdom from Folly

Bruegel : Discerning Wisdom from Folly

Discerning an understanding between Non-Virtues and Virtues is  needed in our times. And the works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder can help us to find an answer.

Five hundred years ago, there were a number of artists in The Netherlands who saw the beauty in daily life. And more than that: these artists were so talented that their depictions of the commonplace succeeded in making others receptive to it. There and then, in the 53 years between the death of Hieronymus Bosch (1516) and that of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1569) lies the origins of our unquenchable interest for ourselves, the devious and the other.

  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The painter of the seeking man

In the mid-16th century, Bruegel’s paintings are coveted conversation pieces. That they still elicit conversations and admiration 450 years later is no coincidence, according to Manfred Sellink. “There are only a few artists in history whose oeuvre has such a scope that you can spend a lifetime working on it, without getting bored,” says Manfred Sellink (director of the KMSKA in Antwerp and Bruegel expert) , who devoted the lion’s share of his career to Pieter Bruegel the old. “When he died in 1569 in Brussels, he dominated like no other, the image of that pivotal period in the Southern Netherlands, the mid-16th century developed into one of the most creative regions of the known world.”

Much like the great humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, Bruegel questioned how well we really know ourselves and also how we know, or visually read, others. His work often represented mankind’s ignorance and insignificance, emphasizing the futility of ambition and the absurdity of pride.

Bruegel’s paintings are conversation pieces depicting ordinary people rather than heroic figures, and they reveal human nature through proverbs and morals. Influenced by humanist scholars, Bruegel (1525–69) visualized philosophical ideas for people outside the academic world, and his prints and paintings depict folk tales and historical adages, sometimes in humorous form, that were important to civic education. He showed physical features that reveal inner character, utilizing a repertoire of human personality traits found in physiognomy books.

It is the representation of human nature of the people surrounding him—workers in the field, citizens of Antwerp and Brussels, noblemen, children, mercenaries, lepers, religious dignitaries, art lovers, humanists, and the like—and of humanity in general, inward and outward woman and man included. Bruegel’s own personality and convictions largely remain opaque.

  • The past is a mirror of the future

This pivotal period marks the change from the Traditional Medieval  and perennial philosophy ( and to the notion that Man is, at root, a spiritual creature with spiritual and intellectual needs which have to be nourished if we are to fulfil our potential) into the modern world promoting  an ideology, in the form of Modernism, that has become so set in our minds that any other way of being seems in some sense fanciful and “unrealistic”.

However, the teachings of the traditional wisdom  should not, in any sense, be taken to mean that they seek, as it were, to repeat the past – or, indeed, simply to draw a distinction between the present and the past. Their’s is not a nostalgia for the past, but a yearning for the sacred and, if they defend the past, it is because in the pre-modern world all civilizations were marked by the presence of the sacred.  In referring to Tradition they refer to a eternal reality and to underlying principles that are timelessas true now as they have ever been and will be. And, by way of contrast, in referring to Modernism they refer to a particular (though false) definition of reality; a particular (though false) manner of seeing and engaging with the world that, likewise, is distinguished not by time, but by its ideology.

Professor Nasr put it this way:

When we use the term ‘modern’ we mean neither contemporary nor up-to-date… Rather, for us ‘modern’ means that which is cut off from the Transcendent, from the immutable principles which in reality govern all things and which are made known to man through revelation in its most universal sense. Modernism is thus contrasted with tradition…; the latter implies all that which is of Divine Origin along with its manifestations and deployments on the human plane while the former by contrast implies all that is merely human and now ever more increasingly subhuman, and all that is divorced and cut off from the Divine source.”


By Sir Richard Temple at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts

The late paintings of Peter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525 – 1569) are full of symbolism and allegory whose meaning has been widely and differently interpreted. Some see Bruegel as a gifted, humorous peasant, others as a satirist and political commentator and yet others as a Renaissance humanist and mystic. There is no consensus on the significance of the paintings and hardly any documents to help the historian.

This thesis considers Neoplatonic humanist ideas at the heart of the Renaissance in Italy and in Flanders in the 16th century, relating them to the historical continuum known as the Perennial Philosophy. This concept is little understood today and this work traces its history and demonstrates that it was widely, if not universally, accepted in the Hellenistic era and in the Renaissance.

It also considers the tradition of religious mysticism in Germany, the Netherlands and Flanders throughout the late Middle Ages that led up to the Reformation and points out that this movement is also an expression of the Perennial Philosophy, citing the works of Meister Eckhart, the Rhineland mystics and the schools that came out of the Devotio Moderna.

The work considers the esoteric, ‘heretical’ school called the Family of Love that claimed among its adherents a number of highly illustrious artists, thinkers and politicians. Such men as Christoffe Plantin, Abraham Ortelius and Justus Lipsius spurned the religious turmoil of the period and rejected Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists alike in favour of an inner mystical state they called the ‘invisible church’. They were close to Bruegel, bought his paintings and, it cannot be doubted, shared his thought.

While there are no surviving documents to prove Bruegel’s personal connection with the Familists, the weight of circumstantial evidence, especially when seen in the context of the Perennial Philosophy, is compelling. However, it is the paintings themselves that open comprehensively and convincingly to an esoteric interpretation – once one has the key that unlocks their meaning. This thesis provides that key and leads the reader through an analysis of seven of Bruegel’s last paintings.

The Introduction consists of two sections; the first summarises the discoveries and
opinions of scholars and art historians during the last seventy years and their differing
and often incompatible views as to Bruegel‟s religious and social status and the
significance of his art. The second section analyses in some detail his painting The
Numbering at Bethlehem along the line of esoteric ideas and symbolism that will be
developed throughout the whole work . Read more here

  • Today Bruegel’s work continues to charm and intrigue. How did that happen?

There are many reasons for this, primarily its technical quality. He had the enormous ability to paint very precisely and very loosely at the same time. In The Return of the Herd from his series on the seasons, for example, he only needs a few streaks of paint to accurately portray the cow in the foreground, while he is stunningly precise in the background. He was trained in this by his later mother-in-law, the miniaturist Mayken Verhulst.

The Return of the Herd

  • Does that detail excite the audience?

Yes. There is so much to see that you keep looking. German colleagues came up with the beautiful word Wimmelbilder for it. You hear the word “teeming” in it, a “swarming up” of hidden objects and figures.

These are the details that made a fantastic work like Children’s Games a unique conversation piece. This is how it was intended: to encourage Bruegel’s wealthy clients to engage in conversation. At Erasmus you can read how this 16th-century elite used to keep discussing images. It is the idea of convivium, a gathering seeking wisdom... ”

Children’s Games

  • Homo Ludens Pieter  Bruegels  childrens games  humanist- ducators

by Amy Orrock

Picturing more than two hundred children playing over eighty different games, Children’s Games (1560) is one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s most intriguing and least understood paintings. The panel resembles little else in the history of art, and as a result it has often evoked ahistorical responses. The following article addresses this problem by grounding Children’s Games in the century in which it was produced and using a range of sixteenth-century sources to develop fresh insights into how the painting might have been received by its original audience.

The literature of François Rabelais, pedagogical treatises and colloquies, and Antwerp’s own progressive schooling system all provide examples of contemporary ideals about children and games that can be brought to bear on Children’s Games. After demonstrating the relevance of these sources to Bruegel’s patrons, the author uses the pedagogical literature to measure aspects of Children’s Games, resulting in a more positive reading of the panel than has hitherto been offered. This becomes particularly marked when the painting is placed alongside other sixteenth-century representations of “ideal” and “non-ideal” children. Read more

  • Focus on The struggle between fasting and Shrove Tuesday, a panel from 1559.

That is a very good reason to talk about Bruegel as a painter of the seeking man. On one side of the work he shows the church, the setting for the reflection period which is Lent (Fasting). On the other hand, the joys of life are central.

 In the hostels and around it, gluttony reigns and people jump out of the band one last time. In the center of that swarming, a jester or buffoon leads two figures. We feel that they symbolize the seeker seeking to find the middle ground between the two excesses – abstinence and excess. Bruegel was not admonishing, but he was concerned with ethics and choices. Here he seems to suggest: find your balance. ”


The struggle between fasting and Shrove Tuesday

  • Sounds actual, and a mirror of our present-day life

It is.  We are not going to be a great psychologist, but we live in a time of disruption. All kinds of developments are taking place worldwide that are of concern to people: migrations, conflicts, imminent social and economic disruption, and now pandemic. Well, the age of Bruegel may have been even more disruptive. Religion, power, economy: everything was in motion and Bruegel’s paintings show how man positions himself in that rapidly changing world. They are not political statements, but they are partly about ” la condition humaine”( the Man’s Fate ).  That probably also explains why they remain incredibly popular, also in Japan for example. There they have a completely different cultural background, but Bruegel’s stories have a universal meaning and therefore continue to touch many hearts. ”

  • Is he kind, mild to us humans?

His work shows not only a great insight into but also a lot of love for people. He was called the new Jeroen Bosch in his day and he indeed had his inventiveness and virtuosity in common with his great example. But where Bosch focuses on the end times and humility of man ( see A lifelong pilgrimage: The Mirror of Jheronimus bosch, Bruegel is maybe more optimistic. He encourages his  wealthy clients to engage in conversation, in the idea of convivium, a gathering seeking wisdom. He asks his audience to realize a way of discerning an understanding between Non-Virtues and Virtues.

With him we partly control our own destiny, we have our weaknesses and our strength, and the painter looks at them with sympathy and empathy. His peasant scenes sometimes have a slightly mocking undertone, but they are also an ode to the zest for life,its simplicity and human kindness. He asks us to find back our honesty, courage, uprightness and sincerity.

  • The farmer’s wisdom of  Bruegel.

Peasant scenes are only a very small part of Bruegel’s oeuvre. He is essentially a landscape painter and without a doubt a city dweller, who counted the economic and intellectual elite among his acquaintances. An anecdote shows that he sometimes went with such a rich client to the villages on the outskirts of the city and put on clothes from rural residents. So he was not a farmer among farmers, but an observer of the semi-urban environment in his neighborhood.”

Look  here to zoom in to the details in Bruegels work.

But we invite you to follow Gerry, retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK:

A few years ago, the idea came to him of pursuing Pieter Bruegel the Elder by visiting the European cities where his works are exhibited.For true believers, the Bruegel room in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum must be the holy grail.

In this fantastic room it is difficult to know where to look first. It’s going to take me three posts to get down all my thoughts about the paintings in this room. In one I’ll look at paintings that explore themes of religion, politics and war; in another I’ll consider examples of the kind of work that resulted in the artist coming to be known, misleadingly, as ‘Peasant Bruegel‘.

But I’ll begin with three paintings from the Seasons cycle, done in 1565 for the wealthy Antwerp collector and patron of Bruegel, Niclaes Jonghelinck, who commissioned the sequence.

The paintings later passed into the possession of the city of Antwerp as security for a bond that was not redeemed. In 1594 they were surrendered to the younger brother of the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II, who was the governor of the Netherlands. A few years later, the paintings were then transferred to Vienna.

Five paintings in the series survive: one is missing, since we know that Bruegel planned six pictures (probably depicting pairs of months, since the calendar in northern Europe was often divided into six seasons – two transitional seasons of early spring and early summer, as well as the familiar four).

By this time the genre of paintings of the seasons was fully developed in Netherlandish art. But in this sequence, Bruegel raises it to a new level. In Bruegel’s cycle human activities are observed against the broader canvas of the recurring cycle of change – of death and renewal – in nature. Human toil goes on endlessly amidst an indifferent nature. Read more here

Spring: The Gloomy Day

Summer: Haymaking

Late summer: The Harvesters

Autumn: The Return of the Herd

Winter: The Hunters in the Snow



Rhis article offers a perspective on Pieter Bruegel’s series of paintings of the Seasons. View is meant here literally: a way of seeing, or better, seeing through, the imagined landscape in these paintings. They are usually seen as representations that invite the viewer to an aesthetic-philosophical (neo-Stoic) view of man in his relationship to nature and the underlying divine order. The present article argues, however, that a more specific salvation-historical and Christian perspective is offered in these paintings, which must be perceived with the internal as well as the external eye.

The starting point for this interpretation is contained in a small religious scene, vignette or motif, in each of the five surviving paintings of this series. Due to their inconspicuous position in the painting, these motifs have hitherto gone unnoticed in the art historical discourse. However, they make it possible to relate to landscapes made by Joachim Patinir and his followers in the first half of the sixteenth century.

The small religious scenes in these earlier landscapes portray the theme of “seeing blind” in an Erasmian-playful way and let the viewer experience through their unobtrusive position in the composition what it means to open the eyes to the spiritual and divine dimension of reality. Bruegel’s paintings, landscapes with religious themes (including the Carrying of the Cross in Vienna) as well as the Seasons series, are subsequently associated with this pictorial strategy for obtaining “sight and insight”.

In a short analysis of each of the Seasons, the relevant religious motif is highlighted and explained. The result of this view is the proposition that Pieter Bruegel attempted in these paintings to illustrate and illustrate man’s spiritual blindness to the manifestation of divine history of salvation in the person of Jesus in the world. to make. Veiled evocations of the Fall, the Incarnation, the Passion and Jesus’ mission on earth are all about the revelation, the revelation, of this divine order. In the midst of this play with insight into insight is the viewer, whose personal insight and judgment – as so often in Bruegel’s paintings – is the actual subject of the performance. Read more here

Could it be a copy  the lost 6th painting of the Season’s series? it is made by his son Pieter Brueghel the younger, Spring

Brueghel the younger, Pieter; Spring; National Museums Northern Ireland;

  • Religion, politics and war.

In the first part of this appreciation of the Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Gerry  looked at Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons. This time we want to explore a group of paintings that share a preoccupation with religion, politics and war.

These paintings may have been inspired by religious themes, but Bruegel never approached such matters in a straightforward manner.

Although – and with little evidence to go on – historians argue about the nature and extent of Bruegel’s religious beliefs, looking at the paintings one feels inclined to agree with Alexander Wied who, in a survey of the artist’s work, saw him as an independent, well-educated man who was probably not a zealous adherent of of any particular sect or religion. But may be a true Believer?

Bruegel lived in an age of bloody religious conflict. He died just two years after the brutal Duke of Alba first arrived in Brussels with orders to suppress the revolt of the Netherlands against Spanish, Catholic rule. The persecutions that led up to that conflict would have been a constant background in his mature years. Time and again, it seems that the events taking place about him were reflected in his art – and given the age in which he painted, it was only natural that the vehicle he used for his reflections were stories from the Bible. For the people of his time, history, the Bible and the tribulations of everyday life were inextricably mingled. read more

  • The ‘Peasant’ Bruegel.

So far this in this series of posts celebrating the Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I have looked at Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons and the works which share a preoccupation with religion, politics and war. In this final post I want to explore examples of the kind of work that resulted in the artist coming to be known, misleadingly, as ‘Peasant Bruegel’.

Though he was held in high regard in his own lifetime, Pieter Bruegel the Elder was, thereafter, largely neglected until the 20th century. In large part, this was due to the account of his life and work provided by his first biographer, soon after he had died. According to this account, Bruegel was above all what we would now call a naive artist, a ‘humorous’ painter of peasant life. So the artist came to be known as ‘Peasant’ Bruegel.

In later centuries, when the classical style of painting was seen as embodying the highest values in art, so Bruegel’s standing fell. But, in the 20th century changes in art-historical analysis led to a reassessment. Rather than being dismissed as a simple and naive painter of low life subjects, Bruegel increasingly came to be seen as a subtle and refined artist, one of the greatest of his own time – or of any time. Read more

  • Intermezzo: Praying Through Cinema – Understanding Andrei Tarkovsky

  • Procession to Calvary the making of the Mill and the Cross

“The Mill and the Cross” is a film based on a painting. Initially historian Micheal Gibson asked Polish director Lech Majewski to shoot a documentary about the painting after he had written an extensive monograph on the subject. Majewski then decided to make a feature film, with Gibson as the script writer. read interview here



The Procession to Calvary is an oil-on-panel by the Netherlandish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder of Christ carrying the Cross set in a large landscape, painted in 1564. It is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Bruegel’s massive painting, Procession to Calvary, tells the biblical story and the story of the Dutch Revolt, or 80 years war. Why is that so impressive? the 80 years war hadn’t even started yet.

Bruegel’s massive painting, Procession to Calvary, tells the biblical story and the story of the Dutch Revolt, or 80 years war. Why is that so impressive? the 80 years war hadn’t even started yet.

The Mill and the Cross: Peter Bruegel’s Way to Calvary

Michael Francis Gibson’s The Mill and the Cross leads the reader into a surprising painting by Peter Bruegel the Elder – The Way to Calvary – an ambiguous work which all at once illustrates the Passion of Christ and the execution of a Reformation preacher in a city rather like Antwerp where Bruegel lived in the early 1560s. The book was praised by the New York Times when it was first published in 2001: “as readable and riveting as a first-class spy-thriller.” Ten years later the Polish film director Lech Majewski brought out his feature film based on the book and starring Charlotte Rampling, Michael York and Rutger Hauer. The film has been widely acclaimed around the world (see This new edition of the book benefits from new and more detailed pictures which allow the reader to discover a number of stunning details that visitors to the museum cannot hope to see. « These details, » says Philippe de Montebello, Emeritus Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “show how each gesture, each posture, is so absolutely right, that our admiration for Pieter Bruegel the Elder is, amazingly, ratcheted up a notch… Just sensational”. look for more detail THE UNIVERSITY OF LEVANA PRESS  and here

for the film look here








  • “The Massacre of the Innocents”

Bruegel’s best-known painting appears to be a Christmas scene, but with a closer look, it becomes the massacre of a village, with the ghostly remnants of children who have been painted over in later years to conceal its true horror.

As told in St Matthew’s Gospel, after hearing from the wise men of the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered that all children in Bethlehem under the age of two should be murdered. In his painting, Bruegel set the story as a contemporary Flemish atrocity, with the soldiers wearing the distinctive clothing of the Spanish army and their German mercenaries.  The painting was finished in 1567, the year Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba, led 10,000 soldiers to the Spanish Netherlands.  His orders from Philip II of Spain were to suppress the Dutch Rebellion and restore Catholicism.

Bruegel used the Biblical story as an allegory in order to portray state oppression in his own time. He depicts the obliteration of a Dutch village by the troops and mercenaries of Philip II of Spain.  In the 1560s, the revolt against Catholic rule in the Netherlands and the assertion of Protestantism and national identity provoked a merciless and vicious repression from Spain. In villages such as this men, women and children would have been declared heretics and butchered as a matter of course.  The painting, with its echoes of Nazi atrocities in the shtetls of eastern Europe, the murder of several hundred Vietnamese civilians by US troops in the Vietnamese village of My Lai in 1968, or countless other examples, speaks to our own time.  As Robert L Bonn wrote in Painting Life:

To look at almost any Bruegel painting is to be transported back to life as it was known more than four centuries ago.  But that’s not all.  With Bruegel, a second deeper look invariably reveals a certain ‘something more’.  This ‘something more’ varies from painting to painting.  It may be secular or religious.  It may be a proverb, a moral, a philosophical dilemma or a social myth.  Whatever it is, I have often found it to be strikingly modern.

read more here 

See also The Massacre of the Innocents: Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures Christopher Lloyd discusses the picture (BBC video clip)

  • Come let us make a city and a tower Pieter bruegel the elder’s ttower of Babel – and the Creation of a Harmonious Community Antwerp

by Barbara A. Kaminska

This article discusses Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel (now in Vienna), originally displayed in the suburban villa of Antwerp entrepreneur Niclaes Jonghelinck as an image that fostered learned dinner conversation (convivium) about the well-being of the city. Looking at various sources, the author analyzes how the theme of the painting, a story of miscommunication and disorder, resonated with the challenges faced by the metropolis. Antwerp’s rapid growth resulted in the creation of a society characterized by extraordinary pluralism but with weakened social bonds. Convivium was one of the strategies developed to overcome differences among the citizens and avoid dystrophy of the community. Read more Here

  • Pieter Bruegel’s Census At Bethlehem

For this is 16th-century Flanders, under Spanish rule. By the door where the crowd are registering is a plaque bearing the double-headed eagle, symbol of the Hapsburg emperor, Philip II.  The men and women at the counter are laying down coins: the Netherlands paid half the tax revenues of the entire Hapsburg empire and four times as much as the Spanish themselves.  He painted the picture in 1566, a time of rebellion against both Spanish rule and the Catholic church. A consciousness of Spanish tyranny and slaughter is found in other paintings and drawings by Bruegel, particularly Massacre of the Innocents.  In the year that this was painted, Philip said he would rather sacrifice 100,000 people than tolerate heresy in the Netherlands and sent the Duke of Alba to supress rebellion.

This is a profoundly democratic painting. Bruegel portrays Mary and Joseph as no larger than the other figures in the painting, nor are they placed centre stage: they are people amongst the crowd.  It is a secular portrayal – a reflection of the new ideas about individual and society emerging at the dawn of the Renaissance. Paintings would now contain worldly details, artists would be acute observers of  animals, plants, landscapes, and – in the new genre of portraiture – people.

In the centre of the painting are two large wooden O’s made by the wheels of some hay wagons. For Bruegel and his viewers, the circle was a symbol of eternity and represented the continuing cycle of life in death and birth.  It is a magnificent painting,  depicting a world filled with suffering and displacement, but which has redemption at its heart.

In 1939, W H Auden, inspired by seeing this and other paintings by Bruegel, including Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, wrote Musee des Beaux Arts:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow, in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

For a more detailed discussion of ‘Census at Bethlehem’ look here

  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder: art discourse in the sixteenth-century Netherlands by Richardson, Todd Marlin

An investigation of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s later depictions of peasants and festivities—the Peasant Wedding Banquet, Peasant Dance, Peasant and Nest Robber and the Festival of Fools—both of the pictures and their viewing context. The study reconstructs two parallel conversations: first, a visual discourse about art theoretical issues—how a painting should look and function—that is revealed in the images themselves and, second, the verbal discourse that would have taken place between viewers in front of artworks that hung in the domestic interior.

By offering close visual analysis in connection with the motivations and mechanisms of the Pléiade poets and rhetorician societies for the enrichment of the vernacular language, I argue that Pieter Bruegel’s monumental peasant paintings should not be understood as antithetical to Italian art, but rather as an effort to cultivate a vernacular style that incorporates visual concepts and pictorial motifs from ambitious painted historiae into scenes of sixteenth-century rustic life—‘artfully’ depicting the ‘natural’ life of Brabant. To gain insight into the character of the viewing context and the interpretive competency of the beholder, I propose as a model the convivium tradition: a genre of literature from Antiquity to the Renaissance that describes interactions between fictional friends that took place before, during and after mealtime. Here the study

  • “Feast your eyes, Feast your mind”: Bruegel’s later Peasant Paintings

Take heart…do your best, that we may reach our target: that they (Italians) may no longer say in their speech that Flemish painters can make no figures. –Karel van Mander, Den Grondt der Edel Vry Schilder-const215

[I]n this mortal life, wandering from God, if we wish to return to our native country where we can be blessed we should use this world and not enjoy it, so that the “invisible things” of God “being understood by the things that are made” may be seen, that is, that by means of corporal and temporal things we may comprehend the eternal and spiritual. St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana

In the following, I examine three paintings by Bruegel made in the last years of his life,1568-1569, all of which are now in Vienna: Peasant Wedding Banquet, Peasant Dance, and Peasant and Nest Robber.

Comparable to the way in which members of the Pléiade program or rederijkers, such as Jan van der Noot and Lucas de Heere, advocated the cultivation of the vernacular language by incorporating the style and form of Latin, French or Italian literature, as well as translating texts from classical Antiquity, I show how Bruegel’s monumental paintings of peasants reveal a similar agenda for what I have termed a “visual vernacular.” Rather than this mode of painting being dependent on the resolute imitation of nature, rejecting any idealization of figures, I will show how Bruegel advocates for the incorporation of classicist, Italianate visual concepts and pictorial elements into detailed images of local custom. In this way, Bruegel mediates characteristics of ambitious historiae for peasant paintings, an idiom increasingly recognized as Northern, and asserts his style to be just as capable of copious, apt and cultivated expression. Furthermore, I intend to show how the recognition of this artistic mediation—in which the viewer is often forced to negotiate between sacred and profane, antique and modern, Northern and Italian artistic practices—challenges the interpretive capabilities of the viewer and creates thematic associations between referee and referent that would have inspired the kind of lively conversation that fit well within the analytical model of viewing and discussing art and literature illustrated in the dialogues representing the convivium tradition. These paintings, which probably hung originally in dining rooms, studies or social rooms, functioned as “conversation pieces,” eliciting questions and conversations on a number of different topics regarding both the form and content of the pictures. In so doing, Bruegel’s practice of mediation functions not only to further cultivate his artistic style, but also to cultivate the mind of the viewer.  look here 

and here for the illustrations


Peasant Wedding Banquet

Peasant Dance,

Peasant and Nest Robber

intermezzo Leonard Cohen – Anthem HD 1080 (w/lyrics) London 2008

  • To See Yourself within It: Bruegel’s Festival of Fools by Todd Marlin Richardson

Bruegel’s Festival of Fools

The topics of blindness and self-awareness I discussed in relation to the
Peasant and Nest Robber bring me to the focus of my fourth and final chapter,
Bruegel’s Festival of Fools . In addition, the practices of making and viewing
works of art I have described for all of Bruegel’s later peasant paintings are also
helpful in thinking about this particular design. Nadine Orenstein argues for a late
dating of the print, after the now lost drawing by Bruegel, based on the words Aux
quatre Vents inscribed at the bottom center. This is the form of the publisher’s address
used by the widow of the print’s publisher, Hieronymus Cock, following his death in
1570. Orenstein speculates the drawing was completed in the last years of Bruegel’s
life, during the same time he painted the peasant panels, and the print produced after
his death.

Although fairly subtle, the composition of the Festival of Fools stages a
procession similar to a wagon play. (Wagon plays were processional dramas that took place during Ommegangen (devotional processions) in the 1550s and 1560s. Rhetoricians conceived of wagon plays as didactic episodes that could morally
edify and educate their audience. The plays utilized overt metaphors and personifications to create allegorical productions that focused on collective civic identity.

The crowd of lively characters enters from the left, beneath the trellised pergolas, and processes to the right, before dancing hand-in-hand and meandering their way into the background where the musicians provide music. The right side of the building through which they process is a gallery for viewing. On the far left side, two men support a makeshift carriage, made just visible by the handle they carry, which bears a bald-headed fool above their shoulders holding a ball before his gaze.

At first sight, the collection of figures seems to be rather chaotically constructed; they engage in acrobatic manoeuvres, heads swivelled awkwardly on bodies and bodies piled on top of one another. In the foreground, multiple fools play a bowling game, while in the background people on a platform strum or bang various instruments. The figures are in full costume with hood and bells; they dance, exhibit bawdy gestures and participate in proverbial activities, examples of which I will discuss shortly. All of this is mentioned in the accompanying text below the image.

The text reads, in translation, “You sottebollen (numbskulls), who are
plagued with foolishness, / Come to the green if you want to go bowling, / Although one has lost his honor and another his money, / The world values the greatest sottebollen. // Sottebollen are found in all nations, / Even if they do not wear a fool’s cap on their heads. / They have such grace in dancing that their foolish heads spin like tops. // The filthiest sottebollen shit everything away, / Then there are those who take others by the nose. / Some sell trumpets and the others spectacles / With which they deceive many nitwits. // Yet there are sottebollen who behave themselves wisely, / And taste the true sense of ‘tSottebollen (numbskulling) / Because they [who] enjoy folly in
themselves / Shall best hit the pin with their sottebollen.Read more

  • The Fall of the Rebel Angels,Mad Meg or Dulle Griet and The Triumph of Death

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, painted in 1562, is a very different kind of painting to the others displayed here, being one of very few that Bruegel painted in the style of Hieronymous Bosch, with whom, in his lifetime, Bruegel was often compared.


Along with Mad Meg, which we saw a couple of days later in Antwerp, and The Triumph of Death, it’s one of three paintings probably executed for an unknown private patron, in 1562. The quality and richness of invention bear witness to a familiarity with the world of demons that Bruegel shared with his Flemish countrymen.  In these paintings it’s as if Bruegel’s demons are present not in some metaphysical terrain of horror, but the real world of Flemish villages, people and landscapes. Read more here

Bruegel’s approach to these excesses and extremes exhibits stoic philosophy’s focus on moderation and the artist as a neutral observer. The Greek philosophers Democritus and Heraclitus embody the two opposing views toward madness and folly in the world: Democritus with laughter and Heraclitus with tears. Stoic philosophy condemned  both emotional extremes in favor of temperance and restraint. “Endure and forbear, as is proper”. Bruegel’s Triumph exhibits this by presenting the vehement actions of the Reformation with neither blatant humor nor emotional outrage. His use of extreme military action and religious symbols within a secular genre channels the classical satirist aim of uncovering the truth with abrasive correlation while maintaining a prudent anonymity.

By integrating and adapting preexisting themes from contemporary and classical culture, Bruegel created a neo-stoic critique of the tumultuous climate of Netherlands in a visual vernacular for the sixteenth century viewer. In his Triumph of Death, Bruegel employed antiquity’s stoic philosophy and classical satire… not only unmasking the folly of his time, but innovating the memento mori genre, and Netherlandish visual tradition. Read more here

look also at the website That’s How The Light Gets In and In-pursuit-of-breugel

  • -The Art of Dying Well according to Erasmus of Rotterdam and Teresa of Ávila

Contemporary conversations about death and dying are lost and unsatisfying on many levels. This phenomenon subsists not only in fields like bioethics, but also in religion and spirituality. Modern culture is preoccupied with seeking ways to live a longer, youthful life, ignoring the inevitable forthcoming of death. One period during which the topic of death and dying was reflected upon by the common Christian was between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries, during which a specific genre of literature was formed: ars moriendi. This genre attempted to provide intellectual, cultural and religious answers as to how death should be understood and ritualized. Two spiritual writers who contributed to the understanding of ars moriendi are Desiderius Erasmus and Teresa of Ávila. What unites these figures of the Catholic tradition is their attempt to show that preparation for death is a lifelong process of cultivating appropriate virtues.  Read hereThe Art of Dying Well according to Erasmus of Rotterdam and Teresa of Avila


Fitzcarraldo: The Un-Making of a Masterpiece

Throughout film history many movies are remembered for having been produced in very complicated conditions. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Werner Herzog’s gonzo masterpiece Fitzcarraldo.

Fitzcarraldo tells the story of a rubber merchant who wants to build an opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle. No doubt, it’s a crazy plan. And almost as crazy as shooting the movie itself. While shooting the film, problems on set multiplied and the history of its production is now infamous. Is it because of the many fights between Klaus Kinski, and Herzog, as well as the cast crew? Maybe it all started when Jason Robards dropped out as the leading actor shortly into filming. Or maybe it’s because Herzog insisted on pulling a 300 ton riverboat over a hill. The misfortunes experienced by the crew were many, but it’s undeniable that the film turned out to be one of the most memorable works in cinematic history.

  • The “Dulle Griet”

With the painting “Dulle Griet”  described Bruegel, in his time,  how the Low Countries and Europe went in a direction that was leading to hell and denounced people’s behavior….

The Lime tree is on fire and people behave themselves to let prevail all deadly sins….

It is striking that there is a great similarity between the painting Dulle Griet and the drawing Ira ( Anger)from the series of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Look at The 7 deadly sins and the 7 virtues by Breughel

In our times we can say that we are chasing the “dulle Griet” behindhand…
In his work Bruegel has combined two opposites: Dulle Griet in the foreground is the woman who behaves like a man, with the focus on greed against the Giant in the background representing the man who behaves like a woman, with a focus on waste. This against the background of hell, where other sins are addressed by the fighting females, the devils and the loving couples.

The Giant carries a ship on his shoulder. Many authors have associated this ship with the famous Narrenschiff or Ship of Fools

Ship of Fools (painted c. 1490–1500) is a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. The surviving painting is a fragment of a triptych that was cut into several parts. The Ship of Fools was painted on one of the wings of the altarpiece, and is about two thirds of its original length. The bottom third of the panel belongs to Yale University Art Gallery and is exhibited under the title Allegory of Gluttony. The wing on the other side, which has more or less retained its full length, is the Death and the Miser, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. The two panels together would have represented the two extremes of prodigality and miserliness, condemning and caricaturing both. The Wayfarer was painted on the right panel rear of the triptych. The central panel, if existed, is unknown.

Allegory of Intemperance ( Gluttony);    Death and the Miser :









Reconstruction: the central part is missing

For Breughel was his time looked  like The parable of the blind: The Blind Leading the Blind . 

How are we looking to our times?  Looks it like The parable of the blind?

In ancient Greece the blind were depicted as having received gifts from the gods, and blind singers were held in high regard. In mediaeval Europe, the blind were depicted as the subjects of miracles, such as Bartimaeus in the healing the blind near Jericho in Mark 10:46–52.[e] Following the Reformation, painted depictions of saints and miracles fell out of favour in Protestant areas.[20] In Catholic thought, charitable works of mercy, such as giving alms to the blind and poor, were good  works which, together with faith, helped the salvation of the doer. However, the Protestant doctrine of sola fide rejected the efficacy of works in achieving salvation, prescribing that it depended on faith alone (and the complication of God’s predestined will for each individual). The status of charity for the poor and infirm diminished, and beggars saw their circumstances deteriorate.[31] In popular literature of the time, the blind were depicted as rogues or targets of pranks.[21] The parable of the blind leading the blind also appears as one of the illustrated proverbs in Bruegel’s Netherlandish  Proverbs (1559).[f][32]


As The Pelgrim or Wayfer of Jeroen Bosch , The website Maypole of Wisdom  invites the reader to rediscover the wisdom of the Bruegel’s Netherlandish  Proverbs  and to discover the inner message of the Soul  for our times.

  • Dulle Griet meets Anger or Vanity

Dulle Griet is the model of Ira = Anger. How can she  find  a way to calm her anger?

She can looks in  the mirror and see herself,making more “selfies”, so  seeing more anger as the portait of vanity of Hans Memling shows us. The lady see only more vanity  The message of Memling is in his Triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation  focuses on the idea of “Memento mori,” a Latin phrase that translates to “Remember your mortality.” Memling’s triptych shockingly contrasts the beauty, luxury and vanity of the mortal earth with images of death and hell.

In the time of Breughel  that was the message that  Vanity was not the solution. see: Nothing Good without Pain: Hans Memling”s earthly Vanity and  Divine Salation

– Die Before You Die

Living as a dry leaf taken by the wind of the divine inspiration which takes it anywhere it wants”  Maulana Sheikh Nazim Al Haqqani

Using the message Sultan Valad( Son of Rumi) from The Skills of Soul Rapture :


God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” (Qoran 24-35)

God, the Most High, declares: “I am the Light of the heavens and the earth. If you see darkness, light, life or beauty in the heavens or on the earth, consider them all coming from Me. In reality, everything with goodness is Myself. Since you do not have direct vision of My Beauty or Goodness without intermediary or association, I show it to you by means of forms and veils. Since your Incomparable Soul is intermixed with form, and that which is adulterated cannot see that which is pure. My Virtue is adulterated to enable you to see It. Existence is like a being whose head is the heavens and whose feet are upon the earth.” Read more here

For Translation in French and Dutch : look here

  • As the Pelgrim  ( of the front panel) can we ask ourself what should had been the central part of the triptych? Can Dulle Griet find an answer?

As the Pelgrim  ( of the front panel) can we ask ourself what should had been the central part of the triptych? Can Dulle Griet find an answer?

What we learn from these paintings and tapisteries, is that  they are inner gardens, forming an inner castle for our soul.

Moral beauty was higly valued in medieval society and as Ailred of Rievaulx said in a 12th century sermont about the inner castle: “in a castle there are 3 things that are strong, the ditch, the wall and the keep (the strongest or central tower of a castle)…..what is a ditch execept deep ground wich is humility. The spiritual wall is chastity, and as you have this ditch of humilty and wall of chastity so must  we build the keep of charity“.

The medieval garden was the recognition of the necessity of Pollarding  and  Pruning.

Pollarding and pruning not only the outside gardens but the inside gardens of our heart, the inner trees of our mind and soul. We need the pollarding and pruning of all the connections of our brain. To make our heart and soul stronger, because when we become adult or old, we forget often our heart.

As Breughel and the medieval mind shows, we need to do it each Spring, each year prepaing the ground the in the autumn and winter to be able of welcoming an Healthy Spring for our heart.

Brueghel the younger, Pieter; Spring; National Museums Northern Ireland;