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“Children’s Games” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

“Children’s Games” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

“Children’s Games” by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder depicts children, who range in age from toddlers to adolescents, who, in some cases, look like miniature adults, playing games.

The games include roll hoops, walk on stilts, spin hoops, ride hobby-horses, mock stage tournaments, play leap-frog and blind man’s bluff, do handstands and play with toys.

The children have also taken over the sizeable civic building that dominates the square. Even in the top left-hand corner, children are bathing in the river and playing on its banks.

Bruegel’s intention for this work was not just to compile an illustrated collection of children’s games. His moral message was that for God, children’s games have as much significance as the activities of their parents.

This moral idea was influenced by a contemporary poem published in Antwerp in 1530 in which humanity is compared to children who are entirely absorbed in their games and concerns.

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 – 1569) was the most significant Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting artist. He is a painter known for his landscapes and peasant scenes.

He significantly influenced the Dutch Golden Age painting with his innovative choices of the subject matter. He was one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the dominant subject matter of painting.

All his most famous paintings come from the decade before his early death when he was in his early forties and at the height of his artistic powers.

He dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel, and he is sometimes referred to as “Peasant Bruegel” to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638).

Children’s Games in the Painting

  • Walk on stilts
  • Leap-frog Vaulting
  • Mock tournaments
  • Hobby-horse Riding
  • Playing the flute and the drum
  • Roll hoops
  • Shouting into a barrel from a hole
  • Riding the barrel
  • Hat throwing
  • Playing with dolls
  • Playing ‘Holy Mass’ with liturgical objects
  • Water gun, shooting water at a bird
  • Wearing Masks
  • Swing from a hanging seat
  • Climbing a fence
  • Handstands
  • Bending the body to contorted positions
  • Blind Man’s Bluff
  • Playing with birds
  • Making hats with twigs
  • Basket weaving
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Somersault Flipping
  • Fence riding
  • Mock wedding
  • Passing through kicking legs – running the gauntlet
  • A flying spinneret made of nutshells
  • Toy animals
  • Ball made with an inflated animals’ bladder
  • Knucklebones Game
  • Mock baptismal
  • A hand game – similar to rock, paper, scissors
  • A decorated paper-mâché container
  • Playing with small discs and a pot
  • Building a well
  • Pulling hair
  • Catching insects
  • Playing marbles
  • Pitch and toss
  • Twirling a hat on a stick
  • Riding piggyback
  • Singing door-to-door
  • Bonfire
  • Riding a broom
  • Making a procession
  • Who’s got the ball
  • Pushing a wall
  • Hide-and-seek
  • Swimming
  • Diving Jumping into water
  • Playing with sand
  • Rattles
  • Wrestling
  • Bowling
  • High stilts
  • Pole vaulting
  • Balancing a stick on a finger
  • Pirouetting skirts
  • Spinning tops
  • Flying a ribbon on a stick
  • Climbing a tree

Children’s Games

  • Title:               Children’s Games
  • Artist:              Pieter Brueghel the Elder
  • Year:               1560
  • Medium:         Oil on Wood
  • Dimensions:   Height: 1,180 mm (46.45 ″); Width: 1,610 mm (63.38 ″)
  • Museum:        Kunsthistorisches Museum

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Children’s Games – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

A Tour of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Two Medieval Games & What They Say About Society

The world of Pieter Bruegel the Elder

A Tour of European Museums


“Things used to be that way,
now they’re this way,
and who knows what they will be like later.”

– Belgian Proverbs.


Photo Credits: 1) Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain]

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