on November 20, 2001
Some said that PIETER BRUEGEL THE ELDER, who started as a landscape painter, swallowed and then spat the Alps onto canvases and panels calling up Italian mountainous landscape masters Giulio Campagnola and Titian. In fact, he played out about 80 real "Children's games" in the Italian city view style of Piero della Francesca and of the woodcut-illustrated works of Sebastiano Serlio. But earlier Netherlandish school influences were in Flemish landscape painter Joachim Patinir-type bird's-eye detailed never-never land mapping of "Landscape with Christ appearing to the apostles at the sea of Tiberias," "The flight into Egypt," and "The parable of the sower"; and later in Herri met de Bles-type "Procession of Calvary," as his largest picture, "Sermon of St John the Baptist," and "Suicide of Saul" in all its Albrecht Altdorfer-type impressionistic brilliance, as forerunners along with the brilliantly yellow "Harvesters" and the three "Haymaking" women to Peter Paul Rubens. "The adoration of the kings," as his first large-figure and only upright-formatted picture, was one of two Italian-influenced paintings, with altarpiece-type proportions, Masaccio-type Moor, late Quattrocento-type bending and kneeling kings, and Michelangelo-type upper body for the Christ Child against balanced interweaving of strong and subdued reds, pink, green, dun, chamois, and black. The other was the one work that he kept with him until death, his small picture of Christ with Raphael-type pivotally placed adulteress, as one of his most copied paintings along with "Winter landscape with a bird trap," in a mature, rare grisaille with brown touchings and gray shades, and with his favorite theme of humility and tolerance. His only mythological "Landscape with the fall of Icarus" had its ploughman doing business as usual, thereby acting out the German proverb of no plough stopping for the sake of a dying man. Elsewhere, subtly color-schemed figures and spaces pioneered applying Hugo van der Goes-type stupid staring to bug-eyed, senselessly frenzied human automatons in "Parable of the blind" and bringing together in one artwork about 100 "Proverbs." He foreran Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Rembrandt in daringly artificial light effects for great spiritual depth with the brightly illuminated head of St John the Evangelist asleep and the supernaturally lighted Virgin Mary dying uncustomarily surrounded by patriarchs, martyrs, holy virgins, and confessors. The later bareboned getting across attitudes and moods by key body language, as in "The big fish eating the little fish," and by untraditional symbols, as in gluttonously round bulks of bellies and trees in "The land of Cockaigne," took the place of his earliest image- and motif-crowded works, as in the Botticelli-type Calumny with the King and his advisors, Ignorance and Suspicion, for his print series on "Vices" and in the Hieronymus Bosch-type grotesque animal and human combinations of fantasies running wild, with the "Christ in limbo" and "Last judgment" drawings and with the many-hued, -shaded, -textured, and -tinted "Fall of the rebel angels," "Mad Meg," and "Triumph of death" paintings. Throughout, his art drew on a mastery of color, from the wintry crisp, subdued black, brown, gray and white "Hunters in the snow" to the delicately dun, gray, mauve and subdued green "Misanthrope" and the pointillistically fresh-leafed "Landscape with the magpie on the gallows." So author Wolfgang Stechow leaves readers on good terms with the 16th-century Flemish artist's hugely productive career and scantily documented life. His clearly written and helpfully illustrated book works well with HIERONYMUS BOSCH by Jos Koldeweij et al, SEBASTIANO SERLIO ON ARCHITECTURE, SERLIO ON DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE, and ALBRECHT ALTDORFER AND THE ORIGINS OF LANDSCAPE by Christopher S Wood.