The Bruegels - all twelve of them!

Sometimes it’s just not fair. Why do some people inherit all the talent. Why does one family produce all the top footballers, musicians, artists. Today we are going to start looking at some of the families who produced not one but hoards of artists. Hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on the factors that might have brought this about. Or is it all in the DNA? I deliberately chose to start this topic with Pieter Bruegel The Elder, because I have studied his works for years trying to learn the craft of being a genre artist. This is his dynasty of artists as shown with the underlining in blue. Yes all the boys. Two of Pieter Bruegel's granddaughters produced artists but of course didn't have the chance to follow this occupation themselves.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was the first known Bruegel to be an artist and was the seminal figure in combining landscapes with scenes of ordinary people going about their daily lives - and this defines a genre artist. Out Hero Image today is a sketch of him, possibly a self portrait. This is one of his most famous paintings The World Upside Down (The Flemish Proverbs).

Pieter was influenced in his style (so it’s not all about inherited DNA) by the works of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1510) who also painted common folk engaged in their daily lives but the narratives had a religious theme. This is Tondals Vision by Bosch. The drawing of the figures, the tones used are quite similar to the style later used by Bruegel. Tondal's story is about a wealthy and errant Irish knight, whose soul goes on a journey through Hell and Paradise with an angel for a guide. As a result of his experience, Tondal is spiritually transformed and vows to lead a more pious life. (J.Paul Getty Museum notes).
The Bruegels were a family of Flemish artists, Pieter Bruegel the Elder being born around 1525 and dying in Brussels in 1569. Nothing is known about Pieter’s parentage so we can only begin to trace the artistic DNA from when he married Mayken, the daughter of his teacher Antwerp painter Pieter Coecke van Aelst, so ensuring a good dose of artistic DNA was passed on to his sons Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). Pieter, the Elder dropped the h in their surname, his sons continued to use it. More on his sons in the next Blog. Here is The Last Supper by Pieter Coecke van Aelst. There is no doubt that Pieter Bruegel and Pieter Coecke van Aelst had excellent drawing skills as illustrated in the forms of the people. Not only could they draw people, they could draw them dynamically emphasising movement and emotions. After yesterday's blog you probably now feel depressed as I said you could be a good painter without expertise in drawing skills. You can, just don't plan to paint exactly like any of these artists! Not only was Pieter Bruegel learning from a master, by marrying his art teacher's daughter he was passing on the ability to draw which you will see in the later Bruegel artists. The animals drawn and painted by Jan Brueghel are amazing!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted and also designed engravings which are like windows into his C16th world. Below is Landscape with Christ Appearing to the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberias painted in 1553 and regarded as one of his earliest known works. We know that Bruegel travelled throughout Italy and is considered to be one of the greatest painters of Italian landscape art, only surpassed by Leonardo da Vinci. Bruegel became an expert in capturing the overpowering grandeur of the mountains. This is an example following in the Italian Renaissance style.
Moving away from his landscapes I want to show you Pieter Bruegel's panel of Children's Games. It is a wonderful piece of social art as it records historical information about what children were playing at in the mid 1500s in Europe.
It's an amazing piece of work. Let's have a look at some of the panel close up to see what the children were up to.
Delightful isn't it? I have a book somewhere in my library showing many of the images from the Children's Games panel.

Painting Point I'm sure you are agreeing that Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a master painter. His painting of The Wedding Dance is one of the best lessons I can give you in designing a perfect composition. And for a bit of fun see if you can find the bride and groom.
The placement of the figures has been executed accordingly to strict geometric rules which are illustrated below.
If you are interested in learning a little more about this please follow the link to A Geometric Analysis of The Wedding Dance by Bruegel

Pieter Bruegel the Elder had profound influence not only on three more generations of painters in his own family but on the works of some of our famous and best known artists. Probably its fair to say all Flemish painters that followed on after Pieter were influenced but especially Peter Paul Rubens (1577– 1640) whom we will look at later.

PostScript I've had feedback from T of Canberra with proof that he went to Bendigo at Easter and viewed the procession featuring Sun Loong.
I'm very sorry I wasn't there to witness the fun!

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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