Died At Age: 44
Born Country: Netherlands
Born in: Breda or nearby, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands (modern-day Netherlands)
Famous as: Artist
children: Jan Brueghel the Elder, Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Died on: September 9, 1569
place of death: Brussels, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands (modern-day Belgium)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a renowned Dutch painter of the Renaissance era. He was known for his innovative choice of subject matter which were mostly landscapes and peasant scenes. Pieter Bruegel was instrumental in making both types of subject the focus in large paintings. Growing up at a time when religious subjects were passé, he also did not paint portraits. During his early career, he was a prolific designer of prints for the leading publisher of the time, Hieronymus Cock, and primarily focused on paintings later on in his short life. Among his sixty-one authentic paintings, only about forty survive to this day, twelve of which are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. His best work in his own opinion, "a picture in which Truth triumphs", has also been lost.
Childhood & Early Life
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was born around 1525-30 C.E. in or near Breda, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands. Because he entered the Antwerp painters' guild in 1551, it is inferred that he was born between 1525 and 1530.
Due to the predominance of peasant themes in his works, many early art historians and scholars assumed that he was born into a peasant family. In recent times, however, based on the intellectual content of his work, scholars identify him as a highly educated townsman, friendly with the humanists of the time.
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According to Flemish artist and art historian Karel van Mander, Pieter Bruegel the Elder was the apprentice of famous Antwerp painter Pieter Coecke van Aelst from 1545 to Coecke's death in 1550. Between September 1550 and October 1551, he also assisted Flemish Renaissance painter Peeter Baltens on a now-lost altarpiece, painting the wings in grisaille, after securing the job via Coecke's wife Mayken Verhulst, who was also a painter.
After becoming a free master in the Guild of Saint Luke of Antwerp in 1551, he decided to travel to Italy, possibly via France. He visited Rome and by 1552, took an adventurous trip to Reggio Calabria at the southern tip of the mainland, where he depicted the city in flames after a Turkish raid.
Following a short visit to Sicily, he returned to Rome by 1553 and met the miniaturist Giulio Clovio, who, according to his 1578 will, possessed several paintings by Bruegel. While most of those landscape paintings have been lost, marginal miniatures in manuscripts by Clovio are attributed to Bruegel.
Interestingly, unlike most artists of the time, he only painted landscapes during his trip to Italy, ignoring both classical ruins and contemporary buildings. He left Italy by 1554 and reached Antwerp by 1555, when Hieronymus Cock, the most important print publisher of northern Europe, published 'Large Landscapes', a set of prints to his designs.
He stayed in Antwerp from 1555 to 1563, during which time he worked as a designer for Cock, producing over forty prints for him, even though the first dated print was from 1557. He usually did not work the plates himself, but produced drawings for Cock's specialists to base their work on.
He moved to Brussels in 1563, and produced most of his famous paintings there. His patrons included wealthy Flemish collectors, as well as Cardinal Granvelle, who was in effect the Habsburg chief minister.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder produced about sixty-one drawings, mostly designs for prints or landscapes, and designed about forty prints, among which he etched the plate for 'The Rabbit Hunt'. His major drawings include 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus', 'The Fight Between Carnival and Lent', 'The Months', 'The Tower of Babel', 'The Blind Leading the Blind', 'The Peasant Wedding', and 'The Netherlandish Proverbs'.
Family & Personal Life
Pieter Bruegel the Elder married Mayken Coecke, the daughter of his former master Pieter Coecke van Aelst, in the Chapel Church, Brussels in 1563. According to Van Mander, his mother-in-law pushed for the move to Brussels to distance him from his established servant girl mistress.
He had two sons, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder, and a daughter, about whom nothing is known. His sons, both well-known painters, were trained by his mother-in-law as he died prematurely on September 9, 1569 and was buried in the Kapellekerk.
Van Mander mentioned that Bruegel had told his wife to burn some drawings before he died. It is assumed that some of his designs for prints carried inscriptions "which were too sharp or sarcastic", and he did not want his wife to be held responsible for them.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was close to the Humanist circles and attempted to Latinize the spelling of his name in 1559. He also changed the script he signed in from the Gothic blackletter to Roman capitals, but "he had not mastered Latin", as others often added the Latin captions to his drawings.