bruegel: cripple creek

At the popular level, Bruegel’s fantastic drolleries are taken at face value. A curious and delightful painter. At his true level, when these obvious charms are recognized as nothing but a pictorial skin, Bruegel is discoverable¬† as an extraordinarily complex painter-philosopher…

…With Pieter Bruegel the Elder there is always an admixture of humor with the grotesquery, and of compassion with the morbidity. Sin for Bruegel was more than a matter of private degradation: his most hellish conceptions are comments on the texture of society as well as moral abstractions. When he shows us maimed beggars dragging themselves along with rough sticks as crutches, their brutalized spirits showing dark and blank behind their eye sockets, he shows them to us not only as Bosch showed his monsters, as symbols of the spirit defiled by sin, but also as the victims of human cruelty.

---It is because of Bruegel's vision that the present-day observer finds it interesting. The artist sees the people not in God's image but as imperfect beings, the dust of the ground from which they were created characterizing them more than the divine breath which was breathed into it. Bruegel is demonstrating even more clearly than usual that the difference between man and animal is by no means as great as one might think. In taking the cripples' legs, he has stripped them of their means of walking upright. This has nothing to do with resignation; indeed, it seems more of a matter-of-fact observation. Nor is there any sense of sympathy; evidently this was relatively uncommon in the 16th century, there being simply too many beggars in the streets and in front of the churches. And anyway, Bruegel's concern was not so much with the beggars as such, of course, as with beggars as representatives, whether of social groups or of a specific conception of man.---click image for source...

—It is because of Bruegel’s vision that the present-day observer finds it interesting. The artist sees the people not in God’s image but as imperfect beings, the dust of the ground from which they were created characterizing them more than the divine breath which was breathed into it. Bruegel is demonstrating even more clearly than usual that the difference between man and animal is by no means as great as one might think. In taking the cripples’ legs, he has stripped them of their means of walking upright.
This has nothing to do with resignation; indeed, it seems more of a matter-of-fact observation. Nor is there any sense of sympathy; evidently this was relatively uncommon in the 16th century, there being simply too many beggars in the streets and in front of the churches. And anyway, Bruegel’s concern was not so much with the beggars as such, of course, as with beggars as representatives, whether of social groups or of a specific conception of man.—click image for source…

At a time when the maimed, the insane, the feeble-minded, and the deformed were laughed at, or at best thought of as animals differing from stray dogs only in being more diverting, Bruegel made them a rebuke to society. Without idealizing them or pretending that they were anything more than bestial, he said they had been born men and that their reduction to a bestial state was accomplished by a cruel society that thus degraded itself.

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