bruegel: keeping identity with nature

For Pieter Bruegel the Elder, man is faulty, he is potentially noble, and that his existence is legitimized by his position as an integral but not central unit of the cosmos- although not within such arbitrarily neat compartments.

Rejecting the elegant but now bloodless gods and heroes who continued to preen and posture in Italian mannerist art and its international offshoots, Bruegel could have fallen into the worse trap of sentimentalizing a lout as a symbol of virtue, making him equally bloodless in specious opposition to the Olympians. But he recognized the peasant as a frequent lout and often showed him as one, with an open and sometimes ribald humor that was neither jibing nor condescending. Bruegel prettified nothing. As far as detail is concerned, the peasant pictures are accurate genre records.

---Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, ca. 1525/30–1569) Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin Image courtesy of the Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz ---

—Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, ca. 1525/30–1569)
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Image courtesy of the Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz

But all detail is incidental to the generalization of form by which the commonplace becomes monumental: the village feast the begins as a genre scene ends as an expression of richness in life. A wedding dance where the heavy bodies men and women whirl in a mass that must have been sweaty and galumphing surges with the life force that for Bruegel was the invincible truth.

---Peasant wedding c. 1568 (150 Kb); Oil on wood, 114 x 164 cm (45 x 64 1/2 in); Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna ---click image for source...

—Peasant wedding
c. 1568 (150 Kb); Oil on wood, 114 x 164 cm (45 x 64 1/2 in); Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna —click image for source…

Like Michelangelo, Bruegel created a symbolic colossus form the material of the human figure. But the similarities stop there. Michelangelo idealized man as the supreme intellectual and passionate force, but a symbol that exists without earthly connections; a real world would have to be invented to suit it. In Bruegel all this is reversed. The symbol’s majesty lies not in its beauty but in its plainness. There is the germ of divine spark through not losing identification with the earth, no need to flee the clay by which Adam was created. No matter that the body, wrapped in rough garments is clumsy and awkward by any standard of idealized Greek form; but in any form but its own, it would lose identity with nature…( to be continued)

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