“The Harvesters” by
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
“The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder depicts the harvest time which most commonly occurred within August and September. This painting is one in a series of six works that represent different times of the year. As in many of Bruegel’s paintings, the focus is on peasants and their work.
Bruegel shows some of the peasants eating while others are harvesting wheat; this was done to illustrate both the production and consumption of food. The painting shows the activities representative of the 16th-century Belgian rural life during the harvest period. Numerous details have been carefully added to create a sense of distance; these include the workers carrying wheat through the clearing and the ships far away.
Pieter Bruegel’s Months of the Year Cycle
The painting is one in a series of six works, five of which still survive, that depict different times of the year. The focus of the works is on peasants and their work and does not have the religious themes common in landscape works of the time. The surviving Months of the Year cycle are:
- “The Gloomy Day” – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- The scene is set around February and March, portrayed by the bleak atmosphere and leafless trees.
- “The Hay Harvest” – Lobkowicz Palace at Prague Castle, Prague
- The scene is set around June and July, portraying the hay harvest.
- “The Hunters in the Snow” – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- This scene is set in the depths of winter during December and January.
- “The Return of the Herd” – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- The scene is set around October and November with the autumnal colours of the landscape and the bare trees.
- “The Harvesters” – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
- The scene is set around August and September, portraying the harvest time.
It is assumed that the sixth painting in the series, which was “High Springtime”, with a scene set around April and May, is lost.
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 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 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).
- What can we see in this view of 16th-century rural life?
- 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?
- Title: The Harvesters
- Artist: Pieter Bruegel, the Elder
- Year: 1565
- Medium: Oil on wood
- Dimensions: Height: 119 cm (46.8 in); Width: 162 cm (63.7 in)
- Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
Pieter Bruegel, the Elder
- Name: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- Birth: 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 Works:
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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], via Wikimedia Commons