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Vivid reproductions of masterworks
on October 8, 2010
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1525-1569, is one of the most resourceful and complex painters from the area known as Flanders, now Belgium. This book has an illustration of most all of the known painting of Bruegel as well as some drawings and prints. The text is informative, historic, and readable. I hate texts in art books that are so esoteric that no one can read them. That is not the case here since the text fully expands upon the illustrations with a maximum focus on the life of Bruegels, his historic political and socio-economic times, and his place in art history. He was a master of the crowd scene, as evidenced by his painting "The Sermon of St. John the Baptist" where the order of the crowd is visually maintained by having most of the crowd clothed in black and their round fleshy heads emerge from this sea of black. The history of Spanish suppression of the Netherlands plays a role in his art and the authors point out that the mysterious man in black that appears in several paintings may be the dreaded Duke of Alba that Spanish king Phillip sent to the lowlands to suppress any religious or political uprising. It is the contrast of black and white that Bruegels uses to maximum effect in many of his paintings. The painting "Massacre of the Innocents" is visually organized in such a way that multiple actions occur throughout the painting as the troops of Herod kill the first born boys of Bethlehem, but the isolation of groups of figures, surrounded by the white snow, is a wonderful visual organizing technique that allows scrutiny of all the horrors and appreciation for the aggregate whole of the painting. The two paintings of the Tower of Babel are included. These are incredible, almost archetypal paintings, of structures in various degrees of completion or ruin. They are visually complex and stunning and the reproductions, though small, are precise. The painting of "Children's Games" is charming and the painting "Netherlandish Proverbs" includes a two page chart identifying 118 different proverbs pictured in the painting. These are charming but were paintings intended to please the viewer. It is some of the darker works that reveals some of Bruegel's genius and mastery. These include "The Fall of the Rebel Angels" where the angels morph into monstrosities as they fall into hell. The painting "Dule Griet (Mad Meg)" is complex nightmare held together by having a strong central female figure striding across the center of the campus surrounded by miniature demons. I wish the reproductions of the masterpiece "The Triumph of Death" had been larger since this painting is such an iconic work, an important chapter in art history. Bruegel's depth is illustrated in the manner in which he can portray complete nightmare in "The Triumph of Death" and yet produce optimistic realistic life loving reflections of everyday existence in such wonderful glowing works as "The Corn Harvest" and "Haymaking". The robust lively life portrayed in wedding scenes and dances is contrasted with a somber masterpiece "The Parable of the Blind" with its realistic and disturbing images of blind men following blind men into a ditch. Bruegel's paintings are haunting. They are images of such strength that they remain with a viewer long after the pages of the book are shut. This edition of his complete paintings is small but comprehensive. It is full of well reproduced images and the price is totally reasonable considering the quality of the images.