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Beer In Art #50: Pieter Bruegel’s Peasant Dance

For today’s work of art we return to an old master, Pieter Bruegel (the Elder), considered by many to be the greatest Flemish sixteenth-century master. He was born in the Netherlands around 1525 and died in 1569. He was a Renaissance painter who began the Bruegel Dynasty that included six well-known artists. (It was originally spelled Brueghel, but in 1559 he stopped signing his paintings with the “h” in his last name). He was especially known for his landscape paintings that were populated by peasants, and in fact “is often credited as being the first Western painter to paint landscapes for their own sake, rather than as a backdrop for history painting.” Sadly, only 45 of his works survive to the present. In March, I featured his painting Harvesters, and today’s work by Brugel is entitled Peasant Dance, the original of which is at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. It was painted in the last years of Bruegel’s life, most likely between 1566 and 1568.

The Web Gallery of Art describes their interpretation on the meaning of Peasant Dance:

Like The Peasant Wedding, it is likely that Bruegel intended this painting to have a moral sense rather than simply being an affectionate portrayal of peasant life. Gluttony, lust and anger can all be identified in the picture. The man seated next to the bagpipe player wears a peacock feather in his hat, a symbol of vanity and pride. The occasion for the peasants’ revelry is a saint’s day, but the dancers turn their backs on the church and pay no attention whatsoever to the image of the Virgin which hangs on the tree. The prominence of the tavern makes it clear that they are preoccupied with material rather than spiritual matters.

But the Humanities Web describes in much less sinister terms. “The joviality of this picture is infectious. Bruegel’s eye objectively captures many scenes: cantankerous drunkards; a couple kissing; a feisty older man pulling a young peasant woman to join him in a dance; and children imitating their dancing elders.” also has a nice article on the artist, and indicate the importance that the Peasant Dance represented in Bruegel’s career:

The Peasant Dance (ca. 1566-1567) represents a new and important direction that Bruegel was to develop in the last years of his career. In this work the painter changed to a “large-figure” style in which highly animated peasants are organized to convey the rhythms and patterns of the dance. Also, by reducing forms to their elemental essences Bruegel achieved a clarity of design and coloration that has seldom been rivaled in Western painting.

If you want to learn more about the artist, Wikipedia, the Metropolitan Museum, Art Show Magazine, the Art Archive or the ArtCyclopedia are all good places to start. And to see more of his work, both Ricci-Art and Art Show Magazine have good collections, and appears to have most of his known works.

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