Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life
By Joseph Leo Koerner
Princeton University Press, 2016
Koerner’s beautifully illustrated book focuses on the rise of secular European art after centuries’ of religious-themed works. He chronicles the growth of secular painting, which later became known as “genre painting,” or works which portray everyday European life. Koerner’s thesis is that the transition to secular painting had its roots in Bosch’s depictions of demons and phantasmagoric creatures, which were representations of human weakness and sin (referred to as “enemy painting”). Bruegel’s paintings, 50 years after Bosch, also contained “undesirable” images, but instead of fantastic creatures, Bruegel focused on human foolishness in his depictions of peasants dancing and other imprudent antics.
Koerner constructs a compelling argument for this thesis, which is greatly enhanced by the book’s abundant images from both Bosch and Bruegel’s paintings. Koerner demonstrates that surviving paintings by both artists show a commonality of subjects; demons, fools, and knaves (“gluttons, lazybones, drunkards, dupes, thieves, bullies, charlatans and quacks”). Lost paintings by Bosch also included subjects that are now closely associated with Bruegel, including “peasant dances and peasant weddings, a huge Battle between Carnival and Lent, a Tower of Babylon, a feast of Saint Martin and works on linen of beggars, merrymakers” and others. As Koerner notes, Bosch appears to have painted nearly all of the subjects now typically associated with European genre painting.
Not only was Bosch and Bruegel’s subject matter similar, but the gestalt of the paintings were also parallel. A bird’s-eye point of view is common to both artist’s compositions. In addition, Bosch and Bruegel filled their works with richly detailed, intricate figures. Their paintings overload our senses with characters and figures that seem to stretch far beyond the limits of the physical works. Further to the similarity of the two artist’s paintings, Koerner points out that until fairly recently, major works by Bruegel were attributed to Bosch, including “The Triumph of Death” in the Prado and “The Fall of The Rebel Angels” in Brussels.
Bosch and Bruegel’s painterly styles were similar too, in that both artists allowed the ground paint layer to penetrate the upper paint layer in certain sections, contributing to the final look of the pictures.
Koerner connects the two artists via their patrons as well. Both were sought out by the elite of their day, including high-ranking politicians and famous humanists. Bosch and Bruegel frequently signed their works, which was not typical of artists of this time period (with the exception of Jan van Eyck).
Koerner spends equal time discussing the artist’s differences as well, stating that “no one makes Bosch seem more historically remote than does Bruegel.” With Bosch, the enemy is the Devil and sin, while Bruegel demonstrated that “genuine evil flourishes in the activity of ordinary people.”
The second two-thirds of the book are comprised of detailed sections relating the life and artistic output of first Bosch, then Bruegel. Koerner reviews key works from both artists and how these works fit into the themes of the book. For Bosch, Koerner zeros in on The Garden of Earthly Delights, which to this day continues to baffle viewers trying to “crack the code” of this enigmatic work. In a later chapter Koerner focuses on Bruegel’s The Magpie on the Gallows, tying this work back to Bosch’s heaven and hell imagery, with peasants dancing beneath the gallows.
Koerner convincingly links Bosch and Bruegel together as the originators of “genre scenes” and brings a fresh perspective to both artist’s works, tying them to the larger context of subsequent European paintings. This book is an excellent addition to both Bosch and Bruegel scholarship, leaving the reader with an even greater admiration of these two towering artist’s talents.
An interesting Pieter Brueghel II painting came to our attention in late May of this year. Listed as “PIETER BRUEGHEL (attr. a)” in the June 1, 2016 auction catalog for the Genoa, Italy auction house Wannenes, this small 18 cm tondo work leapt from the catalog pages with its delicate brushwork and exacting execution. The work had an estimate of only €1,600 – €1,800, yet shimmered from the catalog pages.
Details such as the delicate red thread winding around the pants of one of the peasants was a clear sign that this work should not simply be attributed to Pieter Brueghel II, but was likely an original work by the artist. A quick review of Klaus Ertz’ catalog raisonne of Pieter Brueghel II showed that other similar works were painted by the artist and his workshop, but this clearly escaped the notice of the seller as well as Wannenes.
The day of the auction arrived, and when the lot (number 504) was put up for bid, prices quickly skyrocketed beyond the paltry estimate. Within a minute bidding was already over €30,000. The auction ended with the work selling for approximately €68,000 (€74,400 with buyer’s premium). We wondered how soon we would see the work at auction again, this time with a much larger price attached.
It didn’t take long for the work to reappear. Scarcely more than three months after the June 1 auction, the work has appeared again, to be sold by Dorotheum in Vienna on October 18, 2016. In a new frame and with a certificate of authenticity from world renowned Brueghel II expert Dr. Klaus Ertz, the work now carries an estimate for €180,000 – €220,000.
In the intervening moths the painting appears to have undergone cleaning, with some of the paint loss evident in the Wannenes version corrected and the overall work removed of centuries of grime (see comparison of images below).
Congratulations to the initial buyer who will likely be able to turn a tidy profit of €100,000 or more, depending on the final sale price. This is another classic example of how cleaning a painting, fitting it in a handsome new frame and, most importantly, authentication from Dr. Klaus Ertz can transform the value of a Bruegel II.
Version sold At Wannenes – June 2016
Version to be sold October 18, 2016 at Palais Dorotheum
One of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s greatest patrons was Niclaes Jongelinck, who owned 16 of his paintings. The paintings were hung at Niclaes Jongelinck’s villa, called ‘Hof Ter Beke’, which was then located outside of the city walls of Antwerp.
Sadly, Niclaes Jongelinck’s house is no longer standing. As I was preparing for a trip to Antwerp, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to locate where his house would have stood in present-day Antwerp. I set about trying to locate his house in the hustle and bustle of modern-day Antwerp.
I enlisted the staff at Antwerp’s Urban Planning, Archaeology and Monuments Department in helping me pinpoint the exact location where his house would have stood. The Antwerp team indicated that it was very difficult to locate the exact position of the original building on a present day map as displayed on 17th century maps. The old maps do not have the necessary precision to use them in a computer geographical information system (GIS). However, as you will read, they did provide remarkable insight into the likely location of the house.
The Antwerp team reported that one author, Rutger Tijs, indicated that the house of Jongelinck is located between the Hof Ter Bekestraat, Sint-Laureisstraat, Haantjeslei and Pyckestraat. According to Van Weghe, in 1885 the then-opened Moonstraat ran across the estate, which the Antwerp team thinks is the last ‘Hof Ter Beke’. (The current site is industrial buildings.) The Antwerp team investigated the site in 2005, but did not find the remains of structures older than the early 20th century.
Others also investigated the likely location of Niclaes Jongelinck’s house. The Antwerp team reported that Plomteux, Prims and Vande Weghe stated that the site where the villa owned by Niclaes Jongelinck once stood can be located between the current streets Hof Ter Bekestraat, Broederminstraat, Lange Elzenstraat and Oudekerkstraat. The Antwerp team agrees with this conclusion and indicate that on the maps of 1617 and 1624 the Jonckelinck villa is clearly shown on the south side of the present day Markgravelei while the other possible location (cf. Rutger Tijs) is clearly indicated on the north side.
According to Vande Weghe, in 1872 a new street called the Jongelincxstraat was opened on the estate witch was then owned by the Van den Broeck family. Prior to their ownership, Madam Schul was the owner. Further, in 1873 a new street, the Coebergerstraat, was opened on the estate. According to the Antwerp team this portion was owned by Van Put and Wilmotte.
The Antwerp team says that it does not seem likely that any of the original buildings survived. According to the list with building permits held at the City Archives, the area was built up in a short period of time from 1872 onward. The largest part of these houses are one family residential buildings dating from 1872 forward.
Niclaes Jongelinck’s villa (indicated on maps in 1617 and 1624 but not on the map from 1698) or at least a building which it replaced is drawn on the 1802 and 1814 cadastral drawings. On the 1836 drawing it is not present. The Antwerp team assumes that it was demolished somewhere between 1814 and 1836. When the Antwerp team tried to project the 1814 drawing on a geographical information system present day map, it seems that the buildings location is under or in the neighborhood of the present day building Coebergerstraat 35-37. The team indicates that the precision of this location is as good as the precision of the 1814 map and the number of comparison points they found. Thus, they conclude that an error of a few meters, but not more, is possible.
The map that you can see below shows a portion of the 1814 map with the current map imprinted on it in red. The two above mentioned places are marked with a purple circle. (You can download the PDF by clicking on the “Villa with current map” link below.)
So, for those going to Antwerp, we at Bruegelnow.com recommend a visit to Coebergerstraat 35-37!
Here is a current view of Coebergerstraat 35-37
Many thanks to Georges Troupin, technisch bestuursassistent, Stad Antwerpen, Stadsontwikkeling, archeologie, monumenten- en welstandszorg, for his substantial assistance solving this puzzle!
The following literature was quoted:
Greet Bedeer en Luc Janssens, Steden in beeld, Antwerpen, 1200-1800, Brussel 1993
Guido De Brabander, Na-kaarten over Antwerpen, Brugge 1988
G. Plomteux G. & R. Steyaert met medewerking van L. Wylleman, Inventaris van het cultuurbezit in België, Architectuur, Stad Antwerpen, Bouwen door de eeuwen heen in Vlaanderen 3NC, 1989 Brussel – Turnhout.
Floris Prims, De littekens van Antwerpen, Antwerpen 1930
Floris Prims en H. Fierckx, Atlas der Antwerpsche Stadsbuitenijen van 1698, Anterpen 1933
Rutger Tijs, de twaalfmaandencyclus over het leven van Pieter Bruegel als interieurdecoratie voor het huis van plaisantie ‘ter Beken’ te Antwerpen. in J. Veeckman (red.) Berichten en Rapporten over het Antwerps Bodemonderzoek en Monumentenzorg 3, Antwerpen 1999, p. 117-133.
Roberd Vande Weghe, Geschiedenis van de Antwerpse straatnamen. Antwerpen 1977.
Cartographic sources are below:
Marchionatus Sacri Romani Imperii, in P.Keerius, La Germanie Inférieure.1617 Library UFSIA
Marchionatus Sacri Romani Imperii, Claes Janszoon Visscher 1624 City Archive
Dubray, Plan du territoire de la ville d’Anvers divisé en 5 sections, levé géométriquement par Dubray arpenteur géographe du Depart[ement] des 2 Nethes en l’an X 1802, City Archive 12#3944
Dubray en J. Witdoeck, Plan de la cinquième section IIIeme partie lévé géométriquement par Dubray arpenteur géographe du Departement des Deux Nethes en l’an X”; “Renvoi indicatif du supplement des parties qui ont été fait au plan d’après l’Atlas [met legende] fait par moi géomètre soussigné, le supplement à ce plan […] et conformement à l’Atlas du 15 Mars 1812. Anvers, le 21 Decembre 1814, F.D. Witdoeck. 1814 City Archive 12#4270
C.J. Van Lyre, Atlas der Antwerpsche Stadsbuitenijen. 1698. Cf. literature Prims
J. Witdoeck, 5e wijk genaamd extra muros der stad Antwerpen. 1836, City Archive 12#3077
Alouïs Scheepers, Plan géométrique parcellaire et de nivellement de la ville d’Anvers et des communes limitrophes dressé et gravé à l’échelle de 1 à 5000 par Alouis Scheepers conducteur des travaux communaux au service de Monsieur Th. Van Bever, ingénieur de la ville, publié sous les auspices de l’administration communale. 1868. 1868, City Archive 12#8824
Alouïs Scheepers, Plan geometrique parcellaire et de nivellement de la ville d’Anvers et des communes limitrophes dressé et gravé par Aloïs Scheepers, conducteur de travaux communaux au service de monsieur G. Royers, ingénieur de la ville publié sous les auspices de l’administration communale. Edition de 1886. 1886, City Archive 12#12541
Over the past few months we have had an opportunity to study an interesting “Children’s Games” variant.
We have studied the infrared reflectography image taken, as well as an X-ray image and several images created with various light and dark shading.
Let’s review the images and discus what they reveal about the painting:
First, this image (below) clearly indicates that the painting is quite dirty through age and discoloration of varnish.
This image (below) with light raking from the right side make clear the few small places on the painting which have been cleaned, so the bright colors of the original panel come through, such as in the upper right corner where the sky has been cleaned and the middle left, where the young girl has been cleaned.
An ultraviolet light image (below) shows clearly some of the damage to the painting that has occurred over the decades. The most pronounced damage is along edge where the first and second panels were joined together. There also is damage in the middle of the painting with a few scratches.
One of the mysteries that we are trying to solve with this analysis is to determine when the painting was created. The image below of raking light on the back of the painting clearly shows that the 3 boards which comprise the painting were created with saw-type tools, and don’t appear to be created by a machine.
A recently published monograph “Frames and supports in 15th- and 16th-century southern netherlandish painting” by Hélène Verougstraete has been instructive in our analysis of the marks on the back of the panel. This has been instructive relative to how the panel was created. While none of the images in the monograph are an exact match, some, such as the figure a (page 33) appear to be somewhat close.
However, we aren’t able to date the panel with certainty based on this information.
The image below clearly shows the repair that panel has undergone, most noticeably the increased support that the panel has had to repair and support the joining of the first two panels, where the damage in the other panels can readily be seen.
We are continuing to examine this panel and look forward to sharing our findings here!
Recently we’ve been given the opportunity to examine first hand a very interesting copy of Bruegel’s Children’s Games. The painting is large – 28″ X 39″, seemingly painted on a single panel (or two panels), potentially painted on larch (birch).
Below is the original version from 1560
Below is the copy from ?
What makes this copy so interesting is how it diverges from Bruegel’s original. There are many Children’s games that are missing from the copy, as seen in the illustrations below.
Figures that appear in both versions are in yellow. Those not highlighted are missing from the curious copy:
This blog will document the research done on this painting to ascertain when it was painted, and potentially who painted it.
We love a detective hunt!
It comes to no surprise to any collector that a firm attribution to an painter positively impacts a painting’s value. But what does this mean in the world of Bruegel / Brueghel? The recent attribution of “Wine on St. Martin’s Day” to Bruegel the Elder from a previous attribution of Brueghel the Younger catipulted this painting’s value to 25M Euros if sold on the open market (1). An upcoming auction for Brueghel the Younger’s “The Wedding Dance” at Palais Dorotheum on October 21, 2014 will test the value of attribution for his son, in one of Bruegel / Brueghel’s most popular painting motifs.
In February of last year at rather rough looking painting of “The Wedding Dance” was put up for auction at Bill Hood and Sons in Florida in the USA.
This work, “attributed to Brueghel the Younger” was estimated at $10,000, but on the day of the auction soared above the estimate to land at a sale price of $21,000.
In the time since the auction, the painting was carefully restored, and the owner (or Palais Dorotheum, the seller) worked with the preminant scholar in the area of Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz, to determine whether the work was an autograph Brueghel the Younger.
The Dorotheum website explains the attribution, “The present painting was analysed using X-ray technology and infrared reflectology. The analysis found that the pigment matched that usually used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Furthermore, the manner of working is that of Pieter Brueghel; the wooden panel was prepared using a white chalk base and the imprimatura was applied on the diagonal using a wide brush, as is the case with most of Brueghel’s paintings. The entire composition was meticulously sketched on to the prepared panel. In the underdrawing there are multiple pentimenti.” (The phrase “meticulously sketched” is interesting, since Christina Currie and Dominique Allart in “The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon” show that Brueghel the Younger and his workshop typically used pouncing to transfer images from the preparatory cartoon to the surface of the paining. Hopefully Currie and Allart can examine this painting to tell us more about how the image was tranferred, since it is only one of two examples of this scene in round (“tondi”) form.)
The Dorotheum description concludes by stating, “The present painting is of an exceedingly high quality and should be considered among Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s masterpieces.”
In other words, the attribution raises the price from $21,000 to up to $378,000 (the high end of the sales estimate, which I think this painting will achieve.)
Below is an image of the restored patining on sale at the auction.
A wonderful new exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum from September 20 to November 8 2014 explores Bruegel the Elder via art created by Laurence Smith.
From the introduction:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569) was a Flemish artist who illustrated
people’s everyday lives and the worlds they inhabited. His work is often seen
as being one of the earliest forms of social satire in art history.
In the drawing Nobody and Somebody (1558) the character of Nobody
is shown staring at himself in a mirror, below Bruegel has written the line
“Nobody looks at himself”. Bruegel loved to turn proverbs into pictures and in
doing so held his own mirror up to what he saw as the foolishness of society.
Bruegel was predominantly known for his large, colourful oil paintings of, what
were known as, ‘peasant scenes’. These were commissioned by wealthy
patrons and rarely seen in public. However, many of his drawings were made
into engravings allowing them to be reproduced and seen by a far wider
Laurence Smith has made a study of Bruegel’s little known graphic works and
turned some of these drawings and engravings into oil paintings whilst trying
to mirror the colour and energy of Bruegel’s paintings. Enlarged and vividly
coloured Bruegel’s highly detailed graphic images can now be seen like never
Pieter Bruegel the Elder wanted to hold up a theatrical mirror in order for us to
see our own selves, with all our virtues and vices, reflected back at us.
Of course it is not unusual to find a Brueghel painting in a public art collection, or in a private museum, or, increasingly, in the residence of a wealthy citizen of Russia. What is unusual is finding a Brueghel in an out of the way location. In what is perhaps the strangest setting in which I’ve seen a Bruegel, recently I visited the Church of Saint-Severin Paris’ Latin Quarter knowing that this church had a large format Brueghel, The Crucifixion.
Upon entering the typically fairly dark interior of the Roman Catholic church, I scanned the walls for the painting. I wasn’t surprised that I did not see it, since I expected that it might be in one of the small chapels of the church.
After circling the church several times and not seeing the painting, I noticed an open door into a sort of closet, or anti-chamber, where there was activity. It appeared that the church was preparing for a concert performance.
Amid the activity I stepped into the small room, scanned the walls, and much to my surprise, just above the door to another room, was the painting. It hung approximately 15 feet above floor level and gleamed luminously. While members of the choir were running in and out of the room, I stood back and took in the painting. It was fantastic, large, and had the attributes of a typical Brueghel work.
The painting is similar to other versions of the painting, showing Christ and two others being crucified in a large format landscape. A city extends further in the distance with the temple of Jerusalem. A field of wheat can be viewed behind the figure on the left. In the background two peaks can be seen connected by a natural bridge. Marlier notes that in this version of the painting, the sky is darker than in other versions. It is thought that this painting is a copy after a lost work by the elder Bruegel.
As the activity in the small church room was dying down, it appeared that a concert performer was preparing to lock the door and wanted me to leave. I exited the room, and the door was closed behind me.
I wondered if my visit hadn’t coincided with musicians preparing for a performance, if I would have been able to see the painting. It seemed like the door to this room was normally closed, and only happened to be open because of the performers preparing for the concert.
In life, as with seeing Bruegel/Brueghel paintings, timing is everything. Particularly when there is a Brueghel in a broom closet-like setting.
Paris is home to the only two galleries that specialize in work by the family of Bruegel. For those interested in Brueghel, these galleries are “can’t miss” opportunities. Fortunately, during a visit to Paris earlier this year, I was able to tour both galleries.
Galerie D’Art Saint-Honoré
The Galerie has been in existence since 1984 when it was established by Monika Kruch. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Jérôme Montcouquiol discussing the Galerie and all things Bruegel.
Mr. Montcouquiol discussed with me the recently concluded and very well received exhibit “The Brueghel Dynasty”. The exhibit not only included works from the Galerie, but several private collections contributed works to the exhibit. Included in the exhibit were works from by Jan the Elder, Jan the Younger, Pieter the Younger and others. A highlight of the exhibit, and a work that can be seen in the Gallery, is “The Wedding Feast.” This version differs from many others (and differs from the version painted by Bruegel the Elder) in that two figures can be seen in the loft in the top left portion of the painting.
We spoke about the Galerie’s upcoming exhibition in the Maastricht, Netherlands art fair, where the gallery exhibits each year. Mr. Montcouquiol indicated that they are looking forward to another outstanding show.
The gallery only acquires works of exceptional quality, and strives to showcase works of the Brueghel family as well as major works of other artists of the period.
Galerie De Jonckheere
Paris is one of two locations for Galerie De Jonckheere. This galerie has been catering to Bruegel-related collectors for nearly 40 years. I spent a lovely hour in the Galerie speaking with the staff. The Galerie has had both large scale and more intimate Bruegel-related works, including a wonderful version of the Peasant Wedding Dance by Pieter the Younger (see below). Collectors from North America, Europe and increasingly Russia frequent this gallery to view the latest additions to its collections.
Like many galleries, locating quality Bruegel-related works is difficult in this internet-connected environment. After a new work is acquired, it is reviewed and cleaned to the gallery’s exacting specifications. The works gracing the Galerie’s walls are of the highest standard.
The Galerie has experimented with exhibiting in New York (MANE) as a way to exposure new collectors to its work. This sounds like an ideal way to ensure that new collectors are aware of the magnificence of the Bruegel family.
The Galerie uses its own expertise, with the extensive expertise of Georges and François De Jonckheere, as well as occasionally calling in experts to authenticate works.
In conclusion, both galleries offer outstanding works and are well worth a visit when in Paris. If you aren’t able to visit Paris, the galleries have wonderful websites that can provide a fine view of the current paintings on offer.
Galerie D’Art Saint-Honoré: http://www.art-st-honore.com/en/
De Jonckheere Gallery: http://www.dejonckheere-gallery.com
Laurence Smith has conducted interesting research on a “lost” Bruegel work. After viewing a black and white print in “Pierre Bruegel L’Ancien” by Charles de Tolnay (1935) , Smith began doing research on the van der Geest collection that contained the lost work and found a passage in the Phillippe and Francois Roberts-Jones “Pieter Bruegel” (1997) monograph stating:
“ … One of the richest collections in Antwerp in the mid-seventeenth century was that belonging to Peeter Stevens, which contained, besides works by Bruegel, paintings by Van Eyck, Quentin Metsys, Hans Holbein, Rubens, and Van Dyck. A wealthy cloth merchant and city benefactor who gave alms to the poor and was a patron of the arts, he appears in the center of Willem van Haecht’s painting of 1628, The Collection of Cornelis van der Geest. Peeter Stevens also annotated a copy of Van Mander’s Schilder-Boeck with the statement that he had seen twenty-three paintings by Bruegel, of which he possessed a dozen. The catalogue “Of the most renowned Rarities belonging to the late Mr. Peeter Stevens … Which will be sold the thirteenth day of the month of August and the following days of this year 1688, in the House of the deceased” listed: “By Bruegel the elder: A very famous Heath, where peasant men and Women go to market with a cart & a swine, & others”-a lost painting which appears on the left-hand wall in The Collection of Cornelis van der Geest, from whom Stevens had bought it (a drawing with watercolor, in the print room in Munich, also shows the same subject); …”
Was this really a lost Bruegel the Elder painting that now only survives in a watercolor of the collector van der Geest’s paintings?
Smith had the curator of the Rubenshuis Antwerp send him a close up photo of the section of the painting with the Bruegel. The Bruegel is high up on the left hand side and consequently at a steep angle. Smith scanned the photo and attempted to straighten it and pull it into a rectangle. The artist of the watercolor was careful, Smith notes, “to include some detail and seems to have included enough to recognize the wagon and the tree and two or three of the people going to market. The colouring is dark…”
Smith then contacted the print room in Munich and was able to obtain a color print of the watercolor. Smith found that the print had bits of color to distinguish different portions of the print, but it was not very helpful in discerning if the original was by Bruegel the Elder. If the work wasn’t by Bruegel the Elder, could it have been by his son Jan?
Smith studied the work of Jan Brueghel the Elder, and noted that he used the market day subject several times and also included similar images of peasants walking along a path in his other painting. Smith notes that the jug is shown in the watercolor without a hand supporting it, which differs from his other works.
On the question of whether Pieter Bruegel the Elder initiated the design that Jan copied or whether the original in the van de Geest collection should have been attributed to his son, Smith notes that it is impossible to know for certain, but concludes that it appears to be a Jan original rather than that of the elder Bruegel. Based on my knowledge, I would concur with this conclusion as well.
Not only is Smith conducting this type of interesting research, but he also is running an upcoming Bruegel exhibition of a selection of engravings and oil studies. The exhibit, at the Folk Museum at Helston in Cornwall, runs from May 13 – 30, 2013. You can find Smith’s website at http://pieter-bruegel.co.uk