Thursday, 5 December 2013
Art for Advent (5): ‘The Census at
Bethlehem’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
My choice of an Advent work of art for this morning (5 December 2013) is The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca 1525-1569).
This painting, also known as The Numbering at Bethlehem, depicts Joseph and the pregnant Mary making their way to Bethlehem:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child (Luke 2: 1-5).
This is a rare subject in previous Netherlandish art. In this painting, Bruegel takes a Biblical story and treats a contemporary event, referring to political events of his day.
We can find allusions in this painting to the severity of the Spanish administration in the southern Netherlands in the mid-16th century. Bruegel may also be making a more general criticism of bureaucratic methods. The ruined castle in the background is based on the towers and gates of Amsterdam.
This is an oil-on-panel painting, painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a Flemish renaissance artist, painter and print-maker in 1566.
Bruegel or Brueghel, who may have been born in Bruegel near the Dutch town of Breda, is known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. He was the father of Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder and is the best known of the Brueghel dynasty of painters.
From 1559, he dropped the ‘h’ from his name, signing his paintings as Bruegel. He spent some time in France and Italy, and in 1551 he was accepted as a master in the painter’s guild in Antwerp eventually setting in Brussels.
He was nicknamed ‘Peasant Bruegel’ or ‘Bruegel the Peasant’ for allegedly dressing like a peasant and mingle with the crowds at celebrations to help him to get authentic details for his genre paintings.
He died in Brussels on 9 September 1569 and is buried in the Kapellekerk.
The painting was bought in 1902, and can be seen in Brussels in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
Tomorrow: ‘The Feast of Saint Nicholas’ by Jan Steen.