Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525 - 1569) was a Netherlandish Renaissance painter who was best known for his detailed landscapes and peasant scenes. He earned the nickname "Peasant Bruegel” for his alleged practice of dressing as a peasant to mingle at weddings and other community celebrations, just to gain an insight for creating details in his paintings. In his landscapes he created stories of peasants engaging in the rituals of village life including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and gam

Patterns Included In This Set:


Fall of Icarus

Netherlandish Proverbs

The Tower of Babel


The Land of Cockaigne

The Peasant Wedding

Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap


The Hunters in the Snow

The Peasant Dance

The Harvesters


The Procession to Calvary

The Little Tower of Babel

The Adoration of Kings


The Triumph of Death

The Fight between Carnival and Lent

Children's Games


The Return of the Herd


Magpie on the Gallows


Portrait of an Old Woman

The Parable of the Blind Leading of the Blind

The Numbering at Bethlehem


The Fall of the Rebel Angels

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525/30-1569) was one of the most significant painters of the 16th century Flemish Northern Renaissance. He was given the nickname “Peasant Bruegel” because he chose to depict peasant life and genre scenes. Through his two sons he was the founder of a dynasty of painters that stretched across four generations.

Not much is known about Pieter Bruegel’s life. He didn’t wrote letters and there are few surviving records. Even the date and place of his birth are uncertain and the little that is known comes from the writings of art historians. It is thought that he was born around 1525-1530 in Breda, a town which today is on the border between Belgium and Holland. After 1559 he changed the spelling of his name from “Brueghel” to “Bruegel”. The reason for this change is not known but his sons kept the former spelling.

Bruegel was apprenticed to Pieter Coeck van Aelst, a successful Flemish painter and sculptor who had a large workshop in Brussels. Later, he would marry Pieter Coeck’s daughter.

In 1551 Bruegel became a Master of the Antwerp painters’ guild and the following year went on a long journey to Italy that lasted until 1554. He traveled through France and visited the the region of Naples and Palermo. In 1553 he went to Rome where he met Giulio Clovio, a famous painter of miniatures at the time, and later patron to El Greco. Bruegel’s earliest dated painting is from his Rome period, and he and Clovio even painted a picture together. The sketches of the Alps, drawn during this period, would later form the basis of a series of landscape engravings and oil paintings.

Once back in Flanders towards 1555, Pieter Bruegel settled in Antwerp and went to work for Hieronymus Cock, an Antwerp printer and publisher of engravings. He worked for Cock almost until the end of his life. Cock published Bruegel’s Alpine sketches as a series of elaborate landscapes—the engraving for these works was not done by Bruegel but by other artists—and under Cock, Bruegel also produced satirical figure compositions in the style of Hieronymus Bosch. Bruegel’s style was so similar to Bosch’s that he was even referred to at the time as “this new Hieronymus Bosch”. The most well known of these works are The Seven Deadly Sins series and Big Fish Eat Little Fish produced in 1557.

In 1563 Pieter Bruegel moved to Brussels and married Mayken, the daughter of his former tutor. The couple settled in Brussels and had two children, both of whom would become painters. Their first son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was born in 1564 and in 1568 they had a second son, Jan Brueghel the Elder.

The marriage to Mayken was significant for several reasons: Mayken’s mother was a well-known painter in her home town and it is thought that Bruegel’s first introduction to the allegorical and peasant themes that ran through his works was through his mother-in-law. After Bruegel’s death, Mayken’s mother would become painting tutor to her grandchildren, Pieter and Jan.

Those years in Brussels were highly productive: he was established as a successful painter, he belonged to a group of humanists and he painted his greatest works during this period. Bruegel was now producing fewer prints and concentrating more on painting, particularly satirical views of peasant life portrayed in the manner of Giotto, using large, flat areas of color. He even had a patron, a wealthy Antwerp merchant by the name of Nicolaes Jonghelinck who by 1666 had bought sixteen of Bruegel’s paintings and commissioned a series of depictions of the months of the year. Only five of the twelve paintings produced have survived.

Towards his later years, Bruegel became influenced by Renaissance art, as can be seen in his later works such as The Peasant Wedding Feast and The Peasant Dance. But in parallel, he still painted in his earlier style.

Pieter Bruegel died in Brussels in 1569 while he was still in his early forties. He was buried in Notre Dame de la Chapelle, the same church in which he had been married. Mayken had died a year earlier and the two orphaned children were brought up by their grandmother.

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