18 April 2019, The Tablet

All the fun of the fair

All the fun of the fair

Wedding Feast in front of a Farm, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Maastricht Bonnefantenmuseum


Festivals and Fêtes in Bruegel’s Time
Flanders Museum, Cassel, France

The conflict between the nobler and baser sides of human nature has been a subject for art since the Lapiths and Centaurs slugged it out on the Bassae Frieze, and probably long before. But in the Christian era no artist has expressed it more vividly than Pieter Bruegel the Elder in his painting, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559), part of the collection of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.

It’s largely thanks to this painting that Bruegel has been credited by art history as the father of the peasant festival genre, even though just three of his 45 authenticated paintings tackle the subject. The issue is complicated by the fact that his elder son, Pieter II, adopted his style to paint countless village feasts and festivals, some of them probably copies of his father’s originals. But now a new exhibition, “Festivals and Fêtes in Bruegel’s Time”, at the Museum of Flanders (until 14 July) proves that the genre was more than a family affair by bringing together more than 90 scenes of peasant festivities by 30 artists, from Albrecht Dürer to David Teniers the Younger.

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