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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. They have also taken over the sizeable civic building that dominates the square, and 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 idea was a familiar one in 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 (also Brueghel) the Elder was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. He influenced the Dutch Golden Age painting with his creative choices of subjects, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious themes had ceased to be the dominant subject of painting. All his famous paintings come from the decade before his early death. He was in his early forties, and at the height of his powers. He dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel, and he is sometimes called “Peasant Bruegel,” to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638).


  • What can we see in this view of 16th-century children’s lives?
  • What is your favorite Child game?
  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the first generations of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the dominant subject. What did he focus on instead?
  • Can you find the following activities and games:
    • Walk on stilts
    • Leapfrog 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 Bruegel, 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

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“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]