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Pieter Brueghel the Elder for a Slice of Flemish Life


The master of the slice-of-life scene captured the simplicity of country folk at play, celebrating humanity’s quirks and foibles. With Brueghel’s Peasant Wedding and Peasant Dance there’s not a saint in sight…just life with gusto and perhaps a small moral.

Complete Video Script

[116] One thing I love about art is it can be the closest thing to a time-tunnel experience we'll enjoy in our travels. Slices of everyday life like these take us back in time.

[117, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1525–1569; The Fight between Carnival and Lent, 1559, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Children's Games, 1560, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna] The undisputed master of the slice-of-life scene was the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He captured the rustic simplicity of country folk at play. Where the Italian Renaissance depicted strong noble heroes, northern artists like Breugel celebrated humanity's quirks and poked fun at its foibles.

[118, The Peasant Wedding, 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna] At this Peasant Wedding, farmers scramble for their share of the free food. Two men bring in fresh pudding on a tray, another passes the bowls down, a kid licks his fingers, while the bagpiper pauses to check it all out. Amid the feeding frenzy, almost forgotten, sits the demure bride.

[119, The Peasant Dance, 1567, Bruegel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna] At this farmers' dance, there's not a saint in sight, but there's still a moral. The bagpipes symbolized hedonism, so, here, the church is ignored…while the piper gets all the attention.

[120, The Census at Bethlehem, 1566, Bruegel, Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels] In this bird's-eye view of a snow-covered Belgian village, kids throw snowballs and play on the ice while men lug bushels across a frozen lake and a crowd gathers at the inn. But wait…it's actually a religious scene: the village is Bethlehem, and there's Joseph with his carpenter's saw leading a pregnant Mary, looking for a room. Far from the Holy Land, Breugel literally brings the religious message home…it's Bethlehem in Flanders.