Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1557 - Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, ca. 1525–1569)

One of the most haunting of Bruegel's images, Big Fish Eat Little Fish is among the first of the artist's many treatments of proverbs in paintings or prints. The image reveals many small and large fish tumbling out of the mouth of an enormous beached fish. A small, helmeted figure with an oversized knife slices open the big fish's belly, revealing even more marine creatures. Land, air, and water seem to be overrun by an odd assortment of real and fantastic fish, while in the foreground a man, accompanied by his son, gestures toward the scene.

The meaning of his gesture is conveyed in the Flemish inscription below, which translates: "Look son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small." This vernacular form of the ancient Latin proverb, which appears in majuscule lettering just above, relates to the theme of a senseless world in which the powerful instinctively and consistently prey on the weak. That the son understands the lesson is apparent from his gesture toward the other man in the boat, who has extracted a small fish from a larger one. Bruegel's brilliant visualization of the proverb was first conceived as a drawing (Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina) that is signed by the artist and dated 1556. This engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, however, is signed in the lower left corner with the name Hieronymus Bosch, who had died in 1516. The print's publisher, Hieronymus Cock, was probably responsible for replacing Bruegel's name with that of the more famous and salable Bosch, who had, not coincidentally, a major influence on Bruegel.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Harvesters, 1565 - Oil on wood
In 1565, a wealthy patron in Antwerp, Niclaes Jonghelinck commissioned him to paint a series of paintings of each month of the year. Today, only five of these paintings survive and some of the months are paired to form a general season.

This is one of six panels painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder for the suburban Antwerp home of the wealthy merchant Niclaes Jongelinck, one of the artist's most enthusiastic patrons — Jongelinck owned no less than sixteen of Bruegel's works.
The Harvesters probably represented the months of August and September in the context of the series.
The vastness of the panorama across the rest of the composition reveals that Bruegel's emphasis is not on the labors that mark the time of the year, but on the atmosphere and transformation of the landscape itself.
The series, which represented the seasons or times of the year, included six works, five of which survive.

The other four are:
The Gloomy Day, The painting's scene is set around the start of the calendar year at around January, portrayed by the bleak atmosphere and leafless trees (Wiki).

The Return of the Herd,

Hunters in the Snow (all Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna),
and Haymaking (Lobkowicz Collections, Prague).
Through his remarkable sensitivity to nature's workings, Bruegel created a watershed in the history of Western art, suppressing the religious and iconographic associations of earlier depictions of the seasons in favor of an unidealized vision of landscape. The Harvesters probably represented the months of August and September in the context of the series.

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