Exhibitions celebrating the legacy of the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder are being during 2019. Stuart Forster heads to Brussels and the neighbouring Pajottenland district to find out why.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder is one of the most celebrated Flemish artists of the Renaissance. He died in 1569 and, 450 years on from his death, exhibitions are being held in and around Brussels to showcase the artist’s legacy.
Bruegel is celebrated for his depictions of rural peasant life, winter landscapes reflecting the harshness of weather during a period that has been dubbed a ‘Little Ice Age’ plus paintings depicting angels, demons and fantasy creatures.
He is notable for introducing bird’s eye view perspective of landscapes into art and Hunters in the Snow, displayed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, is regarded the first winter landscape painting.
Paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The permanent collection of Brussels’ Royal Museum of Fine Arts includes six original oil paintings attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Those works include The Census at Bethlehem, painted in 1566, which transposes the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem into a snowy European setting. Bruegel includes details that hint at parallels between the Roman administration in Galilee and Habsburg rule in the Spanish Netherlands.
The museum recently unveiled the Bruegel Box, a room in which videos are projected. The short films explore the details and inspiration of three of the artist’s masterpieces, including The Fall of the Rebel Angels, which is displayed in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, and two other works displayed elsewhere.
VR at Brussels’ Halle Gate
Brussels’ Halle Gate looks much like castle keep. It was once one of the fortified gates that formed part of the city’s defensive walls. To coincide with the 450th anniversary of Bruegel’s death, Virtual Reality (VR) binoculars have been installed on the walls to provide impressions of how the city and surrounding landscape looked during the lifetime of the artist. Additionally, Back to Bruegel, an exhibition about aspects of life during the 16th century, runs for a year from 18 October 2019.
Until January 2020 the Palais de la Dynastie, in central Brussels, is hosting Beyond Bruegel. Scenes from Bruegel’s paintings have been animated, highlighting characters and setting them to music in the immersive exhibition. Characters can be seen dancing and glancing about in the projections.
Contemporary interpretations of Bruegel
Several aspects of Bruegel’s landscapes were inspired from details in the villages of the Pajottenland district, roughly a dozen kilometres outside of the Belgian capital. Bruegel’s Eye is an open-air art project that encourages visitors to stroll through the countryside in which the artist worked. Contemporary artists and designers have reinterpreted aspects of Bruegel’s works in 15 installations.
Similarly, the Feast of Fools exhibition, at Gaasbeek Castle, features works by contemporary artists that draw inspiration on themes from Bruegel’s work.
From 15 October until 16 February 2020 the KBR (formerly known as the Royal Library of Belgium) will display its complete collection of prints designed by Pieter Bruegel the Elder at the Palace of Charles of Lorraine. The World of Bruegel in Black and White shows works with which Bruegel established his reputation.
That reputation has, arguably, never been held in higher esteem and the exhibitions around the 450th anniversary of his death looks set to introduce Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s works to a new audience.
Brussels’ Royal Museum of Fine Arts hosts a permanent collection of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his son, Pieter Bruegel the Younger. Adult tickets for the museum cost €10, entry is free to people aged 18 and under.
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