Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the most acclaimed painters of the Northern Renaissance who amazed his viewers with paintings of prosperous landscapes and showing the brighter side of the low class society of peasants by them enjoying the here and now of everyday life instead of them being in the misery of their labor. According to most art historians, Bruegel was born around 1525 in Berda which was one of the small neighborhoods in the town of Bruegel.
Although there was unknown information about the area that the artist grew up in his early years, however, by viewing actual events that occurred in the artist’s life, Bruegel must have stated learning his craft by becoming a pupil under his future father-in-law Pieter Coecke van Aelst who was one of the most celebrated Flemish painters of northern Europe. Although there was no evidence of Coecke’s influence in Bruegel’s artwork, Walter S. Gibson claimed that the young Bruegel may have helped him paint a few landscapes as backgrounds for some of his paintings.
In addition to this case, it is possible that his earliest efforts at landscape painting have survived unrecognized in some of Coecke’s altarpieces and devotional panels. In spite of that claim, there was actual proof that Bruegel was admitted to the Antwerp Painter’s Guild in Belgium and became a master painter in 1551 at the around the age of 26. Both Gibson and Timothy Foote also claimed that Bruegel’s mother-in-law Mayken Verhulst may have played a part in Bruegel’s training a year after Coecke died in 1550, since she herself came from a family of artists in Malines.
Malines was also a major center of tempera painting on canvas, a technique in which Bruegel later frequently worked in some of his paintings. When Bruegel died on September 5, 1569, it was Verhulst who helped keep the Bruegel legacy alive since she cared for and began the training of his sons Pieter the Younger and Jan the Elder who would become famous artists themselves. Bruegel also associated himself with the Dutch publishing house called the Four Winds which was run by Hieronymus Cock. For almost ten years he produced at least forty for Cock to engrave in his printing press.
In the beginning of his art career, Bruegel resided in Antwerp until he moved to the Belgium’s capital Brussels in the last years of his life. Foote speculates that Verhulst played a huge role in Bruegel moving to Brussels because in order to marry her daughter whose name was also Mayken, Verhulst demanded that he must break up and put away all thoughts of his former mistress who was living with him in Antwerp. When it came down to the typical artwork of the artist, Bruegel’s most popular subjects in his artwork were peasants, landscapes, and religious themes.
Unlike the previous High Renaissance artists would idealize their artwork to go beyond human potentials, The Harvesters which was one of Bruegel’s most famous paintings, showed a lot of abstraction by the figures being distorted and simplified especially when it came down to his peasant subjects to possibly show how poor and uneducated they were. Based on the type of art technique he used, Bruegel must have also been originally influenced by Hieronymus Bosch’s alchemist paintings since many art historians would compare his artwork to Bosch’s imagery paintings and would eventually call him the Second Bosch of the Northern Renaissance.
Examples of Bosch’s influence on his earlier drawings for the Four Winds publishing house were The Seven Deadly Vices. Bruegel integrated the fantastic imagery of Bosch into the series by having every figure dominated by each sin which was in a form of a woman. He also had his seven female sins follow the traditional standards of iconography. In contrast to the pleasant landscapes that Bruegel painted later on in his career, he created hellish landscapes that surrounded the figures in order to show each sin and its consequence since Bosch was also a religious man who warned his viewers about the consequences of their sinful actions.
Out of all of the deadly sins, the Allegory of Lust was the most heavily Bosch inspired artwork since it was possible that Bruegel could have studied more in detail of Bosch’s hell panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights. The Landscape with the Fall of Icarus was one of Bruegel’s least known paintings that was produced between 1555 and 1558. No one knows who originally commissioned the painting, but there were two versions of the painting in which one of them resides in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.
The other version on the other hand, resides in the David and Alice Van Buuren Museum which is also in Brussels. The version that was located in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium was thought to have been the original version. However, when scientists examined it, they discovered that the oil painting was painted on a canvas board instead of a wooden board. Plus, there was plenty of damage done on the canvas since some parts of it had too many overlapping layers of paint, yet the copy itself as a whole was still in good condition.
This painting was the only mythological artwork that Bruegel had ever produced, since it was based off one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses stories which told the story about Daedalus and his son Icarus flying into the sky on their wax-feathered wings after they escape out of the labyrinth from the clutches of the beastly Minotaur. Ovid also wrote in his book that men of low ranking saw the two men flying as if they were gods. Bruegel illustrated the scene in his own time