“Massacre of the Innocents” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger depicts the story from St Matthew’s Gospel, whereupon, after hearing from the wise men of the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered the death of all children in Bethlehem under the age of two. The original theme and composition of this painting were painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger made numerous follow-up versions, including this painting.
Bruegel translated the scene to a 16th-century Netherlandish village, where the Flemish villagers are attacked by Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries, as a commentary on the occupying Spanish troops in the prelude to the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule, also known as the Eighty Years’ War.
Bruegel’s detailed painting is typical of his complex narrative style and the painting depicts numerous small story vignettes in the overall scene. Bruegel’s painting was a popular image and several oil-on-oak-panel versions of “The Massacre of the Innocent”s were painted by 16th-century Netherlandish painters Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger.
What is now thought to be the only version by Bruegel the Elder (c.1565-67) is in the British Royal Collection. Many other versions are attributed to Pieter Breughel the Younger, with different art historians listing as many as 7 or 14 versions, including leading examples in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and other leading museums and private collections.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger was a Flemish painter, known for numerous copies after his father Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s work as well as his original compositions. The large output of his studio contributed to the international spread of his father’s imagery.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder is referred to as “the Elder”, to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1638). Pieter Bruegel the Elder dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel from 1559 onwards.
- Title: Massacre of the Innocents
- Artist: Pieter Brueghel the Younger
- Year: c. 1566
- Medium: Oil on panel
- Dimensions: 116 x 160 cm
- Museum: Kunsthistorisches Museum
Artist Essential Facts:
- Name: Pieter Brueghel the Younger
- Birth: 1564 – Habsburg Netherlands
- Died: 1638 – Netherlands
- Movement: Dutch and Flemish Renaissance
- Notable work:
- A country brawl
- The Village Lawyer or The Tax Collector’s Office
- Winter landscape with a bird trap
“That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” Bible
Photo Credits: Pieter Brueghel the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons