Drakopoulos, Pan: Bruegel and Bosch

Bruegel and Bosch

The monster and the folly

IT WAS A STRANGE SENSATION: As though a de profundis confession were ‘the violent play of a fool’, as though the painful revelation of the darkest nook of the subconscious were nothing but ‘a fabrication of Ariel’.

It was in Amsterdam, early in the evening, as we were coming out of the Rijksmuseum and were going up to Rembrantsplein having once again been assured that what we call ‘everyday’ reality is what great geniuses have realized in their inspired hours and not at all the standard measures of the many. The doors to the special exhibition of Pieter Bruegel’s etchings had already been closed. Within the Museum, the thousands of enigmatic creatures that Bruegel had trapped in his paintings had been left looking unrelentingly at one another, whilst outside the Museum all of us -people and things- were behaving as though everything was ‘normal’, as though ‘life’ had its own rhythm, as though Bruegel had never cast his eyes upon us. Nevertheless, somewhere nearby we could hear the prudent voice of the Duke of Albany from “King Lear”:

If that the heavens do not their visible spirits

Send quickly down to tame these vile offenses,

It will come:

Humanity must perforce prey on itself,

Like monsters of the deep.

Bruegel was born, between 1525-1530, probably in the small township of Breda in North Brabant -now in the Netherlands. He was apprenticed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst before he was 20; and in 1550. after his master’s death, he was apprenticed to Hieronymous Cock. In 1551 the Antwerp guild of painters and sculptors gave him the title of “master engraver”, a profession that was first recognized by the guild. The following year Bruegel traveled in Italy to get acquainted with Italian painting. He went to Naples and Palermo where he must have undoubtedly seen the fascinating Byzantine mosaics in the churches of that city. For some time he lived also in Rome and worked in Giulio Clovio’s workshop; later, another apprentice of singular talent, El Greco, strode into the same workshop. And it was there that Bruegel produced his earliest signed and dated painting.

After his return, at an unknown date, Bruegel lived and worked in Antwerp. In 1563 he got married to his first master’s daughter and installed himself in her house in Brussels. There he lived until the day of his death, September 5th, 1569.

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