By Larry Silver
This fascinating full-length study examines all works by the great Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel within the wider setting of art during his lifetime.
The recent rediscovery in Spain of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s lost painting, The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day, has created even more interest in this much-loved artist, who was one of the Netherlands’ two great masters of satire and fantasy, along with Hieronymus Bosch. Although these two artists never met each other—Bruegel was born around 1525, a decade after Bosch’s death—numerous features link them; indeed, Bruegel painted several demon-infested hellscapes directly inspired by the older master, and he was known in Antwerp as a “second Bosch.” But Bruegel is most famous for his peasant scenes, often humorous and packed with anecdote, and for his landscapes, which poignantly evoke Nature’s changing seasons. His legacy to Netherlandish art was the enduring popularity of both these genres, as well as the artistic dynasty he founded, beginning with his painter sons Pieter the Younger and Jan Brueghel.
Critics have often remarked how Bruegel’s art, so keenly observed and richly detailed, seems to preserve a world in miniature. In this new monograph, Larry Silver, an eminent historian of Northern Renaissance art, serves as our guide to that world. He leads us expertly through Bruegel’s complex and fascinating iconography, allowing us to see his paintings and drawings from the same perspective as his sixteenth-century countrymen. Silver situates Bruegel within the visual culture of his time—exploring, for example, his relationship with the print publisher Hieronymus Cock—and within the broader context of Netherlandish history. All of Bruegel’s surviving paintings are reproduced here, with many full-page details, as well as all of his prints and representative works by his contemporaries and followers.
This volume on Bruegel complements Silver’s widely praised monograph on Hieronymus Bosch, which was published by Abbeville Press in 2006. These two books are the most authoritative and best-illustrated studies of their respective subjects, and together they present us with a panorama of Netherlandish art’s emergence into the distinctive form of the Northern Renaissance.