Bruegel, Brueghel, or Breughel [key], outstanding family of Flemish genre and landscape painters. The foremost, Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, c.1525–1569, called Peasant Bruegel, studied in Antwerp with his future father-in-law, Pieter Coeck van Aelst, but was influenced primarily by Bosch. In 1551 he became a member of the Antwerp Guild. Bruegel visited Italy in the early 1550s. He remained close, however, to the Flemish tradition and employed his native powers of minute observation in depicting the whole living world of field and forest and of sturdy peasants at work and play. He was, himself, a learned city-dweller and friend of humanists. His paintings of genre subjects have allegorical or moralizing significance. In his tremendous range of invention, Bruegel approached Bosch in creating nightmarish fantasies in such works as The Fall of the Rebel Angels (Brussels). He also painted cheerful, acutely perceived scenes of daily life, e.g., Peasant Wedding (Vienna), for which he is best known. In the Fall of Icarus (versions in Brussels and New York), his only mythological subject, the title character is reduced to a tiny figure barely noticeable in a large genre scene.
Bruegel's range of subjects includes religious histories—Numbering at Bethlehem (Brussels), Way to Calvary (Vienna), with figures clothed in contemporary Flemish dress; parables—The Sower (Antwerp), The Blind Leading the Blind (Naples); genre scenes—Children's Games, Peasant Dance (both: Vienna); landscapes showing the activities of the months—(several in Vienna, Harvesters in the Metropolitan Mus.); and other works. A skilled draftsman and etcher, he used a delicate line to define his figures. His people are stubby in proportion, but lively and solid. His color is remarkably sensitive, as is his feeling for landscape. His compositions are often based on diagonal lines and S-curves, creating gentle rhythms and allowing planes of landscape to unfold into the distance.
See studies by L. Münz (1961), W. Stechow (1971), F. Grossmann (3d ed. 1973), and N. M. Orenstein, ed. (2001).
His son, Pieter Bruegel, the Younger, 1564–1637, often copied his father's works. Two of his paintings are in the Metropolitan Museum. His brother, Jan Bruegel, 1568–1625, called Velvet Bruegel, specialized in still life, rendered with extreme smoothness and finesse. He was a friend of Rubens, and occasionally supplied floral ornaments for works from Rubens's shop. He was also adept at landscape. Representative works are in Brussels and Berlin.
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