The Disturbing Images of Pieter Bruegel the Elder

I was camping in southern Pennsylvania and stopped in a little town called Dillsburg for breakfast at a place called Flapjack's Pub. Two pancakes, sausage and eggs and a Bug Light.. 

There was a used bookstore next to the bar and I wandered around for a bit. A small stack of art books caught my eye -- I'm not sure what you would call them, but they're tiny volumes published in the 1940s, basically a miniature art history text about one painter.

The books are fantastic. The Picasso book, for instance, has a wonderful series of reproductions, one image per page. The colors are fading, but have a rich texture. 

The Bruegel book ...

Pieter Bruegel the Elderwas a Flemish Renaissance painter — wikipedia tells me — and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. He was also known for recording some of the first images of social protest.

Which is just an attempt to explain the crazy images I found when I started really looking at his work. Strange figures, haunted, faceless characters, giant beasts ...

Is that a toad in a hat, running with his arms raised?

What is shocking is just how modern these images seem. Even if I struggle to understand the specific scene, the imagery of faceless or deranged excess translates across situations and centuries.

These are some of the same images we use today when we tell similar stories. Which makes sense — a horse reading a newspaper is a timeless signifier.

I've included a few closeups of the strange Bruegel images in the gallery above. Enjoy.

Posted on February 23, 2016 .