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“Massacre of the Innocents” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Massacre of the Innocents

“Massacre of the Innocents” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

“Massacre of the Innocents” by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, depicts the story from St Matthew’s Gospel when King Herod ordered the death of all children in Bethlehem under the age of two. 

Herod made this command after hearing from the wise men of the birth of Jesus. Bruegel re-imagined the scene into a 16th-century Netherlandish village, where Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries attack the Flemish villagers.

This depiction served as a commentary on the occupying Spanish led 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 elaborate narrative style, and the painting depicts numerous small story vignettes in the overall scene.

Bruegel’s art was a favorite 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.

This is the only version by Bruegel, the Elder, many other variants are attributed to his son, Pieter Breughel the Younger, with different art historians listing as many as possibly 14 versions.

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).

Massacre of the Innocents

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Massacre of Innocents

A Tour of the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Collection

The world of Pieter Bruegel the Elder

A Tour of European Museums

Brueghel: Pronunciation Tip


“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: 1)Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) 

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