Pieter Brueghel, the elder

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Pieter I Brueghel

Also Known As: "Peasant Bruegel"
Birthplace: Breda, Noord-Brabant, Nederland
Death: Died in Brussel, België
Place of Burial: Brussels, Belgium
Immediate Family:

Son of N.N. N.N.
Husband of Maeyken Coecke
Father of Pieter Brueghel, the Younger; Jan Brueghel, the Elder and Maria Brueghel

Occupation: Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (Genre Painting)
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Pieter Brueghel, the elder


Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈpitəɾ ˈbɾøːxəl]; c. 1525 – 9 September 1569) was a Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (Genre Painting). He is sometimes referred to as "Peasant Bruegel" to distinguish him from other members of the Brueghel dynasty, but is also the one generally meant when the context does not make clear which "Bruegel" is being referred to. From 1559 he dropped the 'h' from his name and started signing his paintings as Bruegel.


There are records that he was born in Breda, Netherlands, but it is uncertain whether the Dutch town of Breda or the Belgian town of Bree, called Breda in Latin, is meant. He was an apprentice of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, whose daughter Mayken he later married. He spent some time in France and Italy, and then went to Antwerp, where in 1551 he was accepted as a master in the painter's guild. He traveled to Italy soon after, and then returned to Antwerp before settling in Brussels permanently 10 years later. He received the nickname 'Peasant Bruegel' or 'Bruegel the Peasant' for his alleged practice of dressing up like a peasant in order to mingle at weddings and other celebrations, thereby gaining inspiration and authentic details for his genre paintings. He died in Brussels on 9 September 1569 and was buried in the Kapellekerk. He was the father of Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Both became painters, but as they were very young children when their father died, it is believed neither received any training from him. According to Carel van Mander, it is likely that they were instructed by their grandmother Mayken Verhulst van Aelst, who was also an artist.


In Bruegel's later years he painted in a simpler style than the Italianate art that prevailed in his time. The most obvious influence on his art is the older Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch, particularly in Bruegel's early "demonological" paintings such as The Triumph of Death and Dulle Griet (Mad Meg). It was in nature, however, that he found his greatest inspiration as he is identified as being a master of landscapes. It was in these landscapes that Bruegel created a story, seeming to combine several scenes in one painting. Such works can be seen in The Fall of the Rebel Angels and the previously mentioned The Triumph of Death.


Bruegel specialized in genre paintings populated by peasants, often with a large landscape element, but also painted religious works. Making the life and manners of peasants the main focus of a work was rare in painting in Brueghel's time, and he was a pioneer of the Netherlandish genre painting. His earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and games—are unique windows on a vanished folk culture and a prime source of iconographic evidence about both physical and social aspects of 16th century life. For example, the painting Netherlandish Proverbs illustrates dozens of then-contemporary aphorisms (many of them still in use in current Dutch or Flemish), and Children's Games shows the variety of amusements enjoyed by young people. His winter landscapes of 1565 (e.g. Hunters in the Snow) are taken as corroborative evidence of the severity of winters during the Little Ice Age.

Using abundant spirit and comic power, he created some of the early images of acute social protest in art history. Examples include paintings such as The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (a satire of the conflicts of the Reformation)[citation needed] and engravings like The Ass in the School and Strongboxes Battling Piggybanks. On his deathbed he reportedly ordered his wife to burn the most subversive of his drawings to protect his family from political persecution.

References in other works

  • His painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is the subject of the poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" by W.H. Auden.
  • Bruegel's work plays prominently in Don DeLillo's 1997 novel Underworld (DeLillo novel). In the prologue, titled "The Triumph of Death" and set at the 1951 baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers in which Bobby Thomson hit the so-called "Shot Heard 'Round the World", a reproduction of the eponymous painting (c. 1562) floats down into J. Edgar Hoover's hands amidst a celebratory hailstorm of loose bits of paper and other pieces of trash after the home run. Later in the novel, the concepts of death and play (activity) are compared with one another by character Klara Sax, discussing another Bruegel painting, Children's Games (1560): "I don't know what art history says about this painting. But I say it's not that different from the other famous Bruegel, armies of death marching across the landscape. The children are fat, backward, a little sinister to me. It's some kind of menace, some folly. Kinderspielen. They look like dwarves doing something awful" (U 682).
  • Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is referenced in the title of Indie/Punk band Titus Andronicus's song "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'" from 2008's The Airing of Grievances.
  • The novel Headlong by Michael Frayn follows the fictitious discovery of the missing sixth painting in Bruegel's 'The Months' series. The lead character Martin Clay moves to the country for several months with his wife and daughter to finish work on a book. However, he becomes rapidly and obsessively absorbed into the world of Bruegel and 16th century Netherlandish history when he believes he has discovered Bruegel's missing April-May springtime painting The Merrymakers stashed in a fireplace at his less than scrupulous neighbor Mr Churt's countryside estate. The story continues with hilarious consequences!
  • The painting The Hunters in the Snow is used extensively by Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky in his 1972 Solaris.
  • The painting Netherlandish Proverbs was used as the cover artwork for the Fleet Foxes' self-titled first album, Fleet Foxes.


There are about 45 authenticated surviving paintings, one third of which are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. A number of others are known to have been lost. There are a large number of drawings. Brueghel only etched one plate himself, The Rabbit Hunt, but designed many engravings and etchings, mostly for the Cock publishing house.


Ambrosius Brueghel

Jan Brueghel the Younger

Anna Brueghel

David Teniers the Younger

Abraham Brueghel

Other members of the family include Pieter van Aelst and Mayken Verhulst (father-in-law and mother-in-law to Pieter Bruegel the Elder), Jan van Kessel, senior (grandson of Jan Bruegel the Elder) and Jan van Kessel, junior. Through David Teniers, the family is also related to the whole Teniers family of painters and the Quellinus family of painters and sculptors, since Jan-Erasmus Quellinus married Cornelia, daughter of David Teniers the Younger.

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Pieter Brueghel, the elder's Timeline

Breda, Noord-Brabant, Nederland
Age 39
Brussels, Brussels, Belgium
Age 43
Brussels, Brussels, Belgium
September 9, 1569
Age 44
Brussel, België
Age 44
Brussels, Belgium