(1525? - 1569)











Peasant wedding
c. 1568
Oil on wood
114 x 164 cm (45 x 64 1/2 in.)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

One of the most perfect of Bruegel's human comedies is his famous picture of a country wedding. Like most pictures, it loses a great deal in reproduction: all details become much smaller, and we must therefore look at it with double care. The feast takes place in a barn, with straw stacked up high in the background. The bride sits in front of a piece of blue cloth, with a kind of crown suspended over her head. She sits quietly, with folded hands and a grin of utter contentment on her stupid face. The old man in the chair and the woman beside her are probably her parents, while the man farther back, who is so busy gobbling his food with his spoon, may be the bridegroom.  Most of the people at the table concentrate on eating and drinking, and we notice this is only the beginning. In the left-hand corner a man pours out beer - a good number of empty jugs are still in the basket - while two men with white aprons are carrying ten more platefuls of pie or porridge on an Improvised tray.One of the guests passes the plates to the table. But much more is going on. There is the crowd in the background trying to get in; there are the musicians, one of them with a pathetic, forlorn and hungry look in his eyes, as he watches the food being carried past; there are the two outsiders at the corner of the table, the friar



and the magistrate, engrossed in their own conversation; and there is the child in the foreground, who has got hold of a plate, and a feathered cap much too large for its little head, and who is completely absorbed in licking the delicious food - a picture of innocent greed. But what is even more admirable than all this wealth of anecdote, wit and observation, is the way in which Bruegel has organized his picture so it does not look crowded or confusing. Tintoretto himself could not have produced a more convincing picture of a crowded space than did Bruegel with his device of the table receding in the background and the movement of people starting with the crowd at the barn door, leading up to the foreground and the scene of the food carriers, and back again through the gesture of the man serving the table who leads our eyes directly to the small but central figure of the grinning bride.

In these gay, but by no means simple, pictures, Bruegel had discovered a new kingdom for art which the generations of Netherlandish painters after him were to explore to the full.


(E.H. Gombrish, The Story of Art, Phaidon, London, 1995 reprinted 1999)





The Hunters in the Snow
Oil on panel
117 x 162 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna



The Triumph of Death
c. 1562
Oil on panel
117 x 162 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid


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