“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 the Flemish villagers are attacked by Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries. 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 favourite 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 versions 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 (also Brueghel) the Elder (1525 – 1569) 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 innovative choices of subject matter, as 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 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
- Title: Massacre of the Innocents
- Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- Year: c. 1566
- Medium: Oil on panel
- Museum: Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Collection
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- Name: Pieter Brueghel
- Birth: c. 1525-1530 – Breda, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands
- Died: 1569 (aged 39 – 44) – Brussels, Duchy of Brabant, Habsburg Netherlands
- Movement: Dutch and Flemish Renaissance
- Notable work:
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“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.”
Photo Credits: 1)Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2)