bruegelnow has written 29 posts for BruegelNow

Summer Auction Highlights

The summer auction season is upon us, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s offering stellar works by Brueghel the Younger.

Massacre of the Innocents













One of most interesting works at auction is the version of “Massacre of the Innocents” at Christie’s.  It is interesting for the mystery related to the signature.  From the Lot Details:

“The form of the signature on the major versions is considered to be of significance in placing them within the chronologies of Pieter the Elder’s and Pieter the Younger’s oeuvres. The Royal Collection picture is signed ‘BRVEGEL’, which is now accepted as the Elder’s signature; the Vienna version is signed ‘BRVEG’ at the extreme right edge, although the letters ‘EL’ or ‘HEL’ may have been inadvertently trimmed off; a version in Bucharest is signed ‘P. BRVEGEL’. At the time of its sale in Paris in 1979, the present version appears to have born a fragmentary date in addition to the signature, ‘.BRVEGEL. 15..’ (see Campbell, op. cit., p. 15). We are grateful to Christina Currie of KIK/IRPA for noting that the present version is unusual in that it is signed with the signature form of Bruegel the Elder after 1559, ‘.BRVEGEL.’ without an ‘H’ and without the initial ‘P’. No other versions of the Massacre of the Innocents are securely known to be signed in this way; the implications of this for its primacy in the sequence of versions painted by Brueghel the younger remains to be established.”

What happened to the date on the painting?  Having the date on the work in 1979 but not present now is mysterious.  Was the painting subject to a botched cleaning?  Or, did a cleaning reveal that the date was likely false, and was it removed?  Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon.  Further, it will be very interesting to learn where this version sits in the multiple versions painted by Brueghel.

“Nord on Art” has a great write up of the upcoming Brueghel works at auction:




Newly discovered landscape drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder on display

The Museum Mayer van den Bergh made a major announcement related to a new Bruegel drawing.  From their news release:

From June 16 through October 14 2012, the Museum Mayer van den Bergh will host the “Pieter Bruegel Unseen!  The Hidden Antwerp Collection” exhibition. For the first time ever, the museum will be displaying some 30 prints by Pieter Bruegel the Elder to the general public.

Curator Manfred Sellink, however, has another surprise in store for visitors…

In late 2011, Sellink, curator of the exhibition, Director of Musea Brugge and for years a researcher of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s body of work, received a photo of a drawing from a private collection. Sellink and Martin Royalton-Kisch, former curator of the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, came to the conclusion, after a thorough study, that the landscape drawing belonging to the private collector could indeed be ascribed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Comparisons of the paper type with drawings from the same period and an ultraviolet light test lent weight to their conclusion. For example, it appeared that the newly discovered landscape drawing’s paper was of the same Italian origin as the paper that Bruegel used during his journey to and stay in Italy from 1552 to 1554. In addition, ultraviolet light made traces of a signature visible in the bottom left corner.

The drawing of a mountain landscape with two travellers is the first unknown drawing by Bruegel that has appeared since the 1970s. The landscape drawing has all of the characteristics (composition, image structure and drawing technique) of Bruegel’s self-drawn pieces from the 1552-1555 period (see for comparison the drawings from the British Museum from the same period on the right).

Striking details such as the characteristic way in which the birds are drawn, the manner in which the leaves of the trees are continuously typified by a recurring horizontal “3”, the long parallel shading used to create depth, the manner – as swift as it is accurate – in which the two travellers are shown in the centre, the remarkable way in which the crown of the trees in the background is created using a row of thin strips, the characteristic differences between the foreground’s fluent and sturdy ink-filled pen strokes and the much thinner, more precisely laid-out background… everything points to the drawing being the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

This recently discovered landscape drawing will be on display for the first time ever in the “Pieter Bruegel Unseen!  The Hidden Antwerp Collection” at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh starting on June 16, 2012.

Larry Silver’s “Pieter Bruegel”: New Insights On The Old Master

A review of “Pieter Bruegel” by Larry Silver, Abbeville Press, 2011

The images created by Bruegel come thrillingly to life in this Abbeville Press monograph.  This handsome volume, written by Larry Silver, Farquhar Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, puts forward new insights into Bruegel and the time in which he lived.   Silver set out to document Bruegel’s output in prints, drawings and paintings by focusing on patterns and areas of interest common to these diverse media.  Silver places Bruegel in the social and historical context of his time, as a commentator of the religious and political unrest occurring in the Netherlands during his short lifetime.  Silver also includes information not typically found in other Bruegel monographs, documenting the rise of Bruegel scholarship at the end of the nineteenth century, when the new country of Belgium began to look for a native artist to celebrate.

Silver’s first chapter focuses on “Chris Carrying the Cross,” recently made into the fascinating film by Lech Majewski and discussed in a previous blog entry.  This chapter is an excellent companion piece to the film, setting Bruegel’s work in the context of Rogier van der Weyden, who lived before Bruegel, as well as Bruegel’s contemporaries such as Joachim Beuckelaer.  For Silver, “Christ Carrying the Cross” showcases Bruegel’s range of expression found in his earlier prints, as well as pointing the way to his groundbreaking final paintings, which break with the traditional staging of peasant and religious scenes.

Other chapters cover Bruegel’s life in Antwerp, his prominent patron Nicolaes Jonghelinck and his time with print maker (and future father-in-law) Hieronymus Cock.  In a chapter on Bruegel as the “second Bosch,” Silver describes a fascinating transition between the “Bosch” brand, which Bruegel used early in his career, to the “Bruegel” brand, which was not only used by Bruegel but continued by his son and followers for generations.

Silver’s chapters on religion and tradition include an analysis of Bruegel’s ongoing interest in soldiers and weapons, placing Bruegel’s art in the broader context of earlier German images of important battles, such as the Battle of Pavia, which clearly had a significant influence on the artist.

It is inevitable that a Bruegel monograph would include a section on peasant labor and leisure, but Silver manages to put an interesting new spin on this oft covered subject.  Building on Alison Stewart’s recent work, Silver shows Bruegel continuing and expanding the tradition of scenes found in German woodcuts.  The fascinating scholarly debate between whether Bruegel’s treatment of peasants was sympathetic or moralistically critical is covered well by Silver.

One of the aspects of the monograph that I enjoyed the most was Silver’s careful treatment of lost works by Bruegel that have come down to us through copies by his sons.  Silver rightly points out that these lost works deserve robust, careful consideration in the context of original Bruegel’s that survive and should not be discounted as is typical in other Bruegel monographs.  Paintings such as “Wedding Procession” and “Visit to a Farmhouse” are two examples where only copies survive, but nevertheless are important components of the Bruegel oeuvre.

The final chapter, which details Bruegel’s legacy, includes an analysis of works by his sons, as well as those who copied or even forged Bruegel’s works.  Silver sees this as Bruegel coming to assume a similar status as Bosch, where “Bruegelian” images and themes were adapted and repeated to great commercial success.  Silver concludes the monograph by highlighting how no single scholarly consensus has emerged for Bruegel.  Rather, he is viewed through the prism of the agendas of scholars who study him.

This monograph is highly recommended.

Exhibition: Bosch & Bruegel Four Paintings Magnified

Bosch Bruegel Exhibit

Years ago, while visiting the National Gallery of Denmark, I was stopped in my tracks as I came across a painting identified as a Bruegel the Elder work.  I wasn’t floored so much for the painting’s beauty, but my mouth hung open because I had never seen it or heard of it before.  The painting, “Christ Driving the Money-Lenders From the Temple,” was listed in none of my many Bruegel monographs.  How could this be? I wondered.  How can a museum hang a work and call it “Bruegel” when everyone else in the world doesn’t agree that it is a Bruegel?

Currently a fascinating exhibit covering the painting is underway.  Tracing Bosch and Bruegel: Four Paintings Magnified investigates four similar paintings that are done in the Bosch style, which was also emulated by Bruegel in his earlier paintings.  The exhibit seeks to answer the questions of who painted the works and when were they painted.  Further, how did these four very different paintings of essentially the same scene come to hang in the three galleries and one private collection?

While my specific question regarding the labeling of the Copenhagen painting isn’t answered in the exhibit, it does provide countless other fascinating details.  You can learn more about the exhibit at the excellent website:  The creators of the website should be applauded at their exceptional work.  While I am not likely to see the exhibit in any of the locations to which it travels, I feel as if I have experienced it due to the wealth of information provided on the web.  In addition, at least two conferences and a monograph are planned around the exhibitions, with further interesting information certainly to be revealed.

I’ve really enjoyed reading the Twitter feed as the exhibit came together. Hannah Tempest did an excellent job tweeting the process of cleaning and restoration, and providing highly interesting images.

The questions remains – after the exhibit and the Copenhagen painting travels back to the National Gallery – will it still be labeled as “Bruegel?”

I’m interested to hear from folks who have seen the exhibit first hand.  What was it like?

Christ Driving the Money-Lenders From the Temple

Brueghel Auction Update – Fall 2011

There was big news in the Bruegel-verse, with the fall 2011 auction season generating a new record for a price paid for a Brueghel the Younger painting.  Brueghel expert Klaus Ertz called the version of “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” which was sold “of masterly quality”, which certainly helped the work achieve a the record price of £6,873,250.

Of this sale, the New York Times’ Souren Melikian said:

“In the days of abundance, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s vast allegory “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” would not have aroused wild enthusiasm. No fewer than five versions of the subject have been recorded, of which three are from the painter’s own hand. These are not even original but are interpretations of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s composition. On Dec. 7, 2006, “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” cost £3.26 million at Christie’s. On Tuesday it rose to £6.87 million. The easy, large Brueghelian image appeals to a new generation of bidders loath to spend much time parsing the subtleties of great masters, whether in compositional inventiveness or the brilliance of brushwork.”

(NYT, 12/9/2011)

Is “The Mill and the Cross” Historically Accurate?

"The Mill and the Cross"

At last I was able to travel to a theater showing Lech Majewski’s “The Mill and the Cross.”  Bringing to vivid life the 1564 painting “Procession On The Way to Calvary,” from the Kunsthistorische Muesum in Vienna, the film ostensibly allows us into the mind of Bruegel as he prepares to paint the work.

There are many fine reviews of the film that you can find on the web.  (I’ve including a few links at the end of this post.)  Because of this, I’ll focus my review on the historical accuracy of the film based on what we know of Bruegel and his patron, Nicolaas Jongelinck.

However, first let me say that I greatly enjoyed the film.  (How can someone with a blog about Bruegel not find something to like in what is likely the first portrayal of Bruegel on the silver screen?)  While it is impossible to know Bruegel’s thoughts while he was composing this painting, “The Mill and the Cross” offers one possible scenario. I found the film less compelling when it focused on Mary and Jesus.  The story of the crucifixion has been told countless times on the screen, and I found little that was fresh in this retelling.

– The costumes were very well done and closely mirrored those in the painting, as well as clothes that can be found in other Bruegel paintings.

– While I enjoyed Rutger Hauer’s performance, he is too old to portray Bruegel in 1569, when Bruegel was approximately 35 years old.  During the scenes of Bruegel and his wife Mayken Coecke van Aelst, I was pulled out of the film due to the jarring differences of their age and the fact that this does not match the historical record.

– Nicolaas Jongelinck, portrayed by Michael York, was shown in his house in a bustling city (presumably  Antwerp) in the film.  We know that Jongelinck’s residence in Antwerp was not in the city.  Nicolaas’ house, called “‘t Goet ter Beke,” was located just outside the gates of Antwerp  It was built by his brother Thomas, and was trasfered to Nicolaas on 22nd November 1554 (1). (It is possible that Jongelinck had another residence in the city, but there is no record of this.)

– The filmmaker did correctly portray Jongelinck owning a “Tower of Babel” painting by Bruegel, which can be seen in the background of several scenes set in Jongelinck’s house.  We don’t know if it was the exact painting shown in the film, since Bruegel painted at least two versions of the “Tower of Babel.”  The painting shown in the film is housed in the Kunsthistorische Muesum.

– Bruegel had 6 children, 5 boys and 1 girl, in the film.  This could be possible if Bruegel had 4 children that did not live into adulthood, since we know that Pieter II and Jan survived him.  However, there is no documented evidence regarding the number of Bruegel’s children that did not survive.

While there were some lapses of historical accuracy, the film is an entirely enjoyable exploration of the painting and of Bruegel’s time as we understand it today.  We hope that it serves to introduce Bruegel to a new audience of viewers, who will then seek to learn more about the man and his painting.

(1) “The Labours of Hercules, a Lost Series of Paintings by Frans Floris,” The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 107, 1965, PP 114 – 123.

Further reading / reviews of “The Mill and the Cross”

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus

Big news in the Bruegel-sphere this week with new evidence that the famous “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” is indeed not by Bruegel the Elder.  The soon to be released publication, The Brueg(H)el phenomenon, from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK/IRPA) in Brussels, written by Christina Currie and  Dominique Allart, puts forward evidence that the painting was painted near the year 1600, decades after Bruegel’s death.

For years scholars have been postulating that this work was not characteristic of Bruegel’s works in several key areas.  Manfred Sellink, for example, in his magnificent 2007 monograph “Bruegel: The Complete Paintings, Drawings and Prints,” reviews the history of the attribution question.

The painting has always looked “off” to me.  While it was the first Bruegel picture that captured my attention as a 17 year-old student all those year ago, each subsequent viewing of the painting indicated that something was not quite right about it.  The most problematic aspect of the painting for me rests in the depiction of the peasant and his horse.  The figures do not have the typical heft of Bruegel’s figures.  Something about the man and the horse give the impression that they could almost lift off the painting and float into the sky.

The painting is one of the most famous of Bruegel’s works, with W. H. Auden writing an oft-quoted poem about the work.

We look forward to learning more about Currie and Allart’s findings with the release of their research early next year.

Further information here:


“The Mill and the Cross”

What we believe to be the first movie using Bruegel as a main character is now playing across North America.  “The Mill and the Cross,” written by Lech Majewki and Michael Francis Gibson, and based on Gibson’s book, has Bruegel’s painting 1564 painting “Way to Calvary” come to life.

The movie has received mostly positive reviews, and currently has a 7.3/10 rating on

We look forward to providing a full review once we have had a chance to view the film.

"The Mill and The Cross"

Welcome To BruegelNow

Welcome to Bruegel Now, the website that celebrates everything Bruegel / Brueghel related. 

Although born nearly 500 years ago, Pieter Bruegel and his sons’ impact continue to be felt today.  From museum exhibits to new monographs reprinting their painting to ever-increasing prices paid for their work at auction, the Bruegel / Brueghel phenomenon continues unabated.   The Bruegel / Brueghel family members continue to be in the news, with the “discovery” of a Bruegel painting in Prado within the last year making the front pages of newspapers around the globe.

The purpose of this website is to provide one-stop access to all things happening “Now” in the Bruegel / Brueghel word.  Movies, books, auctions and exhibitions are just some of the items that will be covered. Some of these items are academic in nature, while others firmly reside in pop culture.  Regardless, both have a place in Bruegel Now.

You likely will notice that we have more material about the Pieters Bruegel / Brueghel than Jan Brueghel or the other Brueghels.  This is because the Pieters interest us much more than Jan.  In him time, Jan was much more popular than Peter.  Jan Brueghel was a friend of Rubens and his art sold for much more than the works of Pieter the Younger. Now, hundreds of years later, the “inferior” Pieter the Younger paintings command multiples of what Jan sells for – sibling rivalry at the highest level!

This website is also a place to hear from you.  We want to learn your thoughts on all things Bruegel / Brueghel, so don’t be shy about posting a comment to any of the stories that you see. 

Welcome to Bruegel Now!