Renaissance Artists: Peter Bruegel, Genre Painter

Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Peter Bruegel (1525 – 1559) was a Renaissance painter who lived and worked in Netherland. He did marvellous landscapes but was known for his peasant scene, the genre paintings. he tried depicting the daily activities of the common people: the labourers, the artisans, blacksmith, wordsmith, shoemaker and all. He is the pioneer of the 'Genre Painting' Movement, making the art of painting the art of common people instead of the royal men and women.

There are artists who believe that the viewers are like an audience. They themselves are sitting before the audience and they address them, from a height. Some artists feel themselves sitting near a window of a cafe and believe that all other fellows in the cafe are looking at the scene they are going to paint. They make the viewers feeling more active and even participating in the scene itself. Bruegel belongs to the second category of artists.

The Artist:    Bruegel received the nickname 'Peasant Bruegel' for his alleged practice of dressing up like a peasant. He liked mixing with common people at weddings and other celebrations. From there, he got inspiration and authentic details for his paintings. The artists of the movement called 'Genre painting’ make pictorial representations in any of various media that represent the activities of everyday life, such as markets and domestic settings.

Peasant's Wedding (1568) Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vianna, Austria

The Art:   Bruegel's paintings were the responses he gave to the situations and the routine life he saw in his surrounding. His paintings are near to the dust response to the pulsating life of those who sweat under the sun and who try enjoying the smallest events of their life. He looked at the fisherman, the water woman, the tillers, and those who merrily serve food to the guests in a social function. 

Peasant's Wedding Analysed: Look at the painting Peasant's Wedding. This painting was estimated to be sold at a price of 2.5 million GBP. It is a wedding event. A very common event in the life of ordinary people.  On seeing this, we can say that Bruegel might have been standing with his colours and canvas when the very scenes were being lived by the people. Such is the immediacy of his approach; such is the visual representation by his brush strokes.

Bruegel liked mixing with common people at weddings and other celebrations, thereby gaining inspiration and authentic details for his paintings. Here the in a scene from a peasant's wedding, the characters painted are in harmony and in a relaxed mood. They carry no sign of the routine hardships on their faces. If we look closely, we can identify the involvement of every man and woman as if the wedding is in his or her home. 

The Harvester - Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York

Painting Analysed: 

Look at the painting The HarvesterThe working group is painted in bright colours, the colour of the activity. It symbolises the power of involvement in work. While the seated people who are eating give us a feel of the pleasure they experience. The whole scene helps to enhance the harmony within the whole frame. Bruegel's paintings marvellously depicted the country life, the acts of labour and their pleasure. The working life and routine acts of the common had are subjects of genre painters, the painters of activities. another version, slightly different from this one, was sold at a price of $3,746,436.

Look at the painting The Harvester, closely. When Brueghel was on the earth, the time of religious painting was at its peak. Despite that, he chose the subject of depicting the life and activities of common men and women. Here in this painting, the labourers are depicted doing their work on a farm. When we see this painting we are transported to the summer of the Netherlands. Brueghel loved his land much. He loved his people very much. So he made them immortal by mounting them on his canvases. It is believed that this painting was one of the six paintings commissioned by one merchant from Antwerp. He wanted to decorate his home. His name was Niclaes Jongelinck. Presently this painting is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York.

Here the labourers are painted in harmony and in their relaxed mood. There is no sign of hardships on their painted faces. Here we can roughly identify two groups of persons; one of those who are working and another resting under the shadow of a tree. The working group is painted in bright colours, showing the power of alertness and in standing postures. While the seated people are on a peaceful background that gives us a feel of the calm the resting people are enjoying. It helps to enhance the harmony within the whole frame.

The Peasant Dance Pieter_Bruegel
The Peasant Dance Analysed

Look at the painting The Peasant Dance. Here the common people are dancing and enjoying their time. Look at how dexterously the artist has depicted their joyful time. In the seventeenth and eighteenth-century of Europe, the subjects of genre painting ran around the peasant’s acts of joy. These acts were like dancing, participating in festivals and many a time doing household and professional works for earning. Most of these subjects explored the joyful experience of the common people, especially acts of pleasure. 

The working life and routinely acts of the ordinary people had been the main subject of genre painters. In this type, the painters depicted peasants working in the fields or in houses and enjoying the leisure, too, they gain from the work itself. Perhaps their patrons, who sponsored or purchases the paintings might have liked the depiction of the life different from theirs, as the purchasers were naturally from the elite class.

As confined by the definition, and the concept that outside the scope of genre painting, the artists have remained preoccupied in painting the reality. These artists, mainly the Dutch painters, Bruegel included, preoccupied themselves with painting the costumes and daily practices of the people living in their immediate surround. The art had never been a mere exposition of what the artists saw. These artists applied their observations. They applied their artistic analysis while painting the scenes they witnessed.  [All the paintings are in Public Domain, taken from Wikimedia Commons]

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