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Masters of Art: Bruegel by Wolfgang Stechow

Masters of Art: Bruegel

by Wolfgang Stechow, Pieter Bruegel

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Part of the Masters of Arts Series, this outstanding coffee table book contains a detailed overview of the life and work of the great Netherlandish artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who spent his most fruitful years in Brussels from 1553 to 1569. Included also are forty full-page color prints of Bruegel paintings along with a detailed essay on each by art historian Wolfgang Stechow. For the purpose of my review, I will focus on one particularly fascinating painting: Children’s Games. Thus, in addition to all of the pics I have included here, below are quotes from Wolfgang Stechow’s essay along with my modest comments:

“In Bruegel’s Vienna painting of 1560, children stand for adults, and it is the folly of adults that is chastised in a guise which makes no effort to disguise: these are children only by size and (partly) by dress.” ---------- One feature of medieval society and culture I have always found disturbing, how young teenagers - thirteen, fourteen and fifteen-year olds - married and became parents. One well-documented consequence of children having children was flagrant and widespread child abuse.

“When five of them pull the hair of a single victim and when they kill flies, they act more savagely than normal children would.” ---------- Thank you, Wolfgang Stechow. This has been my sense in viewing this painting, although I lacked the background of an art historian to adequately articulate my perception.

“The trundling of a hoop and the whipping of a top become frantic efforts; among the hundreds of children’s faces that this picture contains, there is not a single one that expresses childlike enjoyment of what the body is doing in its compulsive action.” ---------- Again, this is one aspect I find most troubling – how men and women lack a sense of ease or harmony, even when they are engaged in play, which ideally should be a time of joy and relaxation.

“The gnomelike figures resemble puppets manipulated by an invisible hand exactly as do Bruegel’s adults.” ---------- I take the author’s statement here as underscoring how the people in the painting are so constrained and constricted by their suffocating society, they are bound rather than free when expressing emotions and inhabiting their bodies.

“This is a panorama of folly rather than of childhood.” ---------- And that’s folly not in innocent foolishness but in brutish stupidity.

“The top of a central pyramid, the sides of which are emphasized by the house wall and the diagonal part of the red fence on the left and the long beam and the group of boys playing leapfrog on the right, is marked by a child bride procession seen strictly from the front.” ---------- With the dozens and dozens and dozens of children in this painting, the artist provides a clear structure by a precise, subtle underlying architecture – quite the master stroke.

“It is a relief to escape from the frantic actions of the main part of the picture to the brilliantly and sketchily painting landscape at the upper left which increasingly frees itself from its human burden.” ----------- As Wolfgang Stechow goes out to say, in a world filled to the brim with the folly of man, Bruegel envisioned one redeeming feature - nature left to herself.
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  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wolfgang Stechowprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bruegel, Pietermain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0810931036, Hardcover)

At a time when artists were still primarily occupied with religious or mythological subject matter, the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel turned his shrewd eye on everyday ways. This book outlines the artist's account of his society and times, and the relevance that account has for us today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:05 -0400)

Reproductions and text present the life and work of the Dutch artist.

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