Pieter Bruegel (about 1525-69), usually known as Pieter Bruegel the Elder to
distinguish him from his elder son, was the first in a family of Flemish painters. He spelled his name Brueghel until 1559, and his sons retained the "h" in the spelling of their names.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, generally considered the greatest Flemish painter
of the 16th century, is by far the most important member of the family. He was
probably born in Breda in the Duchy of Brabant, now in The Netherlands. Accepted
as a master in the Antwerp painters' guild in 1551, he was apprenticed to Coecke
van Aelst, a leading Antwerp artist, sculptor, architect, and designer of tapestry
and stained glass.
Bruegel traveled to Italy in 1551 or 1552, completing a number of paintings,
mostly landscapes, there. He married van Aelst's daughter, Mayken, in 1563.
His association with the van Aelst family drew Bruegel to the artistic traditions
of the Mechelen (now Malines) region in which allegorical and peasant themes
run strongly. His paintings, including his landscapes and scenes of peasant
life, stress the absurd and vulgar, yet are full of zest and fine detail. They
also expose human weaknesses and follies.
He developed an original style that uniformly holds narrative, or story-telling,
meaning. In subject matter he ranged widely, from conventional Biblical scenes
and parables of Christ to such mythological portrayals as Landscape with the
Fall of Icarus; religious allegories in the style of Hieronymus Bosch; and social
satires. But it was in nature that he found his greatest inspiration. His mountain
landscapes have few parallels in European art. Popular in his own day, his works
have remained consistently popular. Bruegel died in Brussels between Sept. 5
and 9, 1569.