Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Bruegel's Backgrounds

Until this week I knew only two things about Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569).

I knew that he did apocalyptic, hellish nightmare scenes, like this (from Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1562), full of frogs, fish and scatology.

The other was that he drew and painted scenes of peasant revelry, like this (from Kermiss at Hoboken, 1559). I am impressed by the twisted creativity of the hellish scenes but have never gotten into them like some people do, and I always saw the revels more as sources for social history than art.

This week at the library, looking for something to peruse while I waited for an oil change (my next stop), I grabbed a copy of a big, beautiful picture book, Pieter Bruegel by Philippe and Francoise Roberts-Jones, originally published in French in 1997. All the familiar stuff is here. But what really blew me away was the blown-up details from the backgrounds of Bruegel's historical paintings. Some of these are tiny; that bird image at the top of the post can't cover more than a square inch (2.5x2.5 cm) of canvas. But what a little wonder it is. It and the image above are from the background to The Census at Bethlehem, 1566.

Just one of the numerous background figures from Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1565, a painting that in total measures only 9.5 x 13.5 inches (24 x 34 cm).

From Hunters in the Snow, 1565.

From Winter Landscape with Skaters and Bird Trap, 1565. On the original the house is less than an inch (about 2 cm) tall, the bird trap about the same size.

I suppose there is something modern or post-Impressionist about my fondness for these images, rendered so small that they must necessarily be coarse, grainy, and unpolished. But love them I do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The second one is Bosch.