- Bruegel: The Complete Paintings, Drawings and Prints
Manfred Sellink and Ludion Press have produced a useful tribute to the work of Pieter Bruegel. This latest volume reproduces all of Bruegel's known works: his paintings, drawings, and prints. The illustrations are of the highest quality. The achievement is particularly telling in the case of the drawings, which are frequently accompanied by enlarged details that convey the finer points of Bruegel's draughtsmanship. It is extremely helpful to have reproductions of the entire oeuvre at hand, introduced year by year, for this layout allows for easy comparison between media. As Sellink rightly asserts, there are notable similarities in conception and execution between the cumulative Theatrum Mundi paintings of 1559–60 —Netherlandish Proverbs, Carnival and Lent, and Children's Games —and the drawings and engravings from around the same time that depict the seven Vices and Virtues. The works share a miniaturist's sense of rendering human and chimerical figures, and a taste for composition that leans toward the exemplification of a central theme —students of rhetoric might apply the terms exemplificatio and amplificatio.
The collection includes a number of works not normally anthologized. These include the Drunk Cast into the Pigsty of 1557, a fairly recent discovery that has generally been accepted as one of Bruegel's authentic works. And the very late grisaille of the Three Soldiers in the Frick Collection in New York is likewise reproduced, an important document of Bruegel's interest both in German military prints and in the fashionable elongated figure style of French and Italian art. Sellink also includes a section devoted to problematic attributions. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the Fall of Icarus in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Doubts have long been raised concerning Bruegel's role regarding this picture. Certain art historians judge it as by the artist's hand, others consider it a copy of a lost work, and still others regard it as a pastiche of Bruegelesque elements by a later hand. Attempts to date the canvas support suggest that it may have been made as late as 1600 if not afterwards. Yet as Sellink reminds us, a painting of Daedalus and Icarus was recorded in 1621 in the Imperial Collection of Prague, where it was said to be by Pieter Bruegel. The uneven condition of the Brussels picture makes its authenticity difficult to judge, but the [End Page 970] painting seems at least to record an invention of Pieter Bruegel's, perhaps from the mid-1560s.
Two other works not usually considered in monographs on Pieter Bruegel are The Visit to the Farmstead and the Peasant Couple Attacked by Robbers. The former, a grisaille in the Lugt Collection in Paris, was frequently copied by both of Bruegel's sons, Jan and Pieter II. The theme, which is perhaps the visit of a prominent couple to their wet nurse in the countryside, was also treated on several occasions by Maerten van Cleve, and seems to have had a certain appeal for the sixteenth-century public. The Peasant Couple Attacked by Robbers in the collection of the University of Stockholm had been traditionally attributed to Pieter the Younger until a second signature was uncovered that seemed to record the father's name. Yet the painting with its elevated perspective and high horizon appears to have more to do with the Bruegel revival of ca. 1600 than with the artist's own output.
Sellink's text comprises an introduction and notes to each of the numerous works illustrated. His is a rather conservative approach. Issues of connoisseurship figure prominently and basic iconographical problems are addressed. Broader contextual and aesthetic issues do not find much of a place in these relatively abbreviated writings. There is no sociolinguistic consideration, for instance, of Bruegel's use of proverbs.
His introduction offers a serviceable orientation for those coming to Bruegel studies. Sellink stresses the painter's relationship to Antwerp and to the publishing house of Hieronymus...