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  Pieter Brueghel the Elder

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Pieter Brueghel the Elder
 
 
 
 
Nature as Man's Environment
 
 
 
Quite the opposite is true of the picture Haymaking (c. 1565). The range of colours is richer, white being used solely for a horse and for clothes, while the landscape is displayed in many shades of yellow, green and blue, with the fruit and articles of clothing in the foreground even painted bright red. Bruegel also uses landscape forms to render seasons (and the feelings we associate with them) visible. Large areas of the landscape in the picture of winter are flat, as though pressed down and deadened by the ice and snow. In the case of early summer, on the other hand, he depicts a varied, rolling, hilly landscape; he has even animated the sky, painting it not as a monochrome surface but bright above the horizon and a rich blue at the upper edge, and also adding clouds. This comparison reveals the means employed by Bruegel - in addition to the concrete details - to heighten the impression of the harshness of winter or the vitality of early summer.
The painter even makes use of the figures to characterize the seasons. In the one instance, weary hunters with drooping shoulders are turning their backs upon the observer. In the other, three young women are energetically striding past the observer, one of them even looking straight at him. If one takes the group of women together with that formed by the three basket-carriers, one might even be tempted to think of a dance-like arrangement, of choreography. Such rhythm is rare in Bruegel's art; it, too, reinforces the impression of vitality and joy of living in harmony with Nature.


Haymaking
c. 1565


Haymaking (detail)
c. 1565

It was a part of understanding and studying nature that one come to appreciate more closely the differences between the various seasons. Bruegel succeeded in this in a highly individual manner.




Haymaking (detail)
c. 1565



Haymaking (detail)
c. 1565




Parable of the Sower
1557


Solicitudo Rustica
1555

 
 
 
 
The Return of the Herd, The Hunters in the Snow and Haymaking belong to a cycle of paintings depicting the months of the year, all with the same format and probably executed for the same patron. Five of these months have survived, the other two being The Corn Harvest (1565) and The Gloomy Day (1565).
No figures striding out with dance-like steps may be seen in The Corn Harvest; quite the opposite, the fieldworkers are exhausted, are lying or sitting, eating or sleeping. Each of these paintings has a dominant colour or combination of colours; here it is the yellow of the corn, ripe for harvesting.
The Gloomy Day was presumably intended as a reference to February, the carnival month. A minstrel is standing in front of the "Star" inn in the village at lower left, and a boy in the right-hand foreground of the picture has fixed a paper crown to his brow, while another is eating a waffle, something commonly consumed at carnival time in those days. Two men are cutting and bundling willow branches, a typical wintertime occupation. The flexible branches were required for the weaving of fences and walls.
Once again, however, it is not the people who determine the picture of the season but Nature, which manifests itself so much more powerfully. It is Nature in which man must assert himself, in which he finds enjoyment, but which he is also unable to affect in any way.
Man's impotence is reflected in the storm-lashed sea and the sinking ships. Bruegel has dramatically illuminated the snow-covered mountains in the background. The slope in the foreground on which the people are working appears perilous. Perhaps it was the storm which uprooted trees on the hill. One almost has the impression that the dark earth, rudely awakened from its winter sleep, was attempting to rise up in revolt.
Bruegel's very different landscape pictures must be seen as a whole and compared with one another in order to fully appreciate the artist's achievement. Never before had the transformation of nature in the course of the seasons been so convincingly captured in pictorial form. Indeed, no-one before - nor perhaps since - has depicted landscapes in such a varied manner, with such an absence of sentiment. A new outlook is revealed here, one influenced by a philosophical conception of the world and sharpened by contemporary interest in natural history and the globe as a whole.


The Corn Harvest
1565


The Gloomy Day
1565

This painting alludes to January or February. The paper crown on the boy's head refers to Epiphany, the Festival of the Three Magi; waffles were commonly consumed at carnival time prior to Lent. Following the custom at this season, willow branches are being cut for the construction of walls and fences. The mountains in the background demonstrate the threatening proximity of cold and snow; a further source of threat can be seen in the storm whipping up the waves and causing ships to sink. The Netherlanders were a seafaring people; they knew how dangerous the winter months are at sea. Water, mountains and the near intimacy of the foreground are held together by the picture's particular coloration. The towering trees in the middle serve to anchor the agitated landscape.



The Gloomy Day (detail)
1565

 


The Gloomy Day (detail)
1565



Prudence, from The Seven Virtues
1559



Alpine landscape
1553

 
 
 

 
 
 
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