Bruegel: Historical and Critical Study

Bruegel: Historical and Critical Study

Bruegel: Historical and Critical Study

Bruegel: Historical and Critical Study

Excerpt

What does he mean to me, this man who steps in between humanity and myself?. . . It is not he, it is nature, it is humanity working at a given point in time and space that is the true author.

ERNEST RENAN.

THE scenes and incidents that Bruegel has recorded in his drawings, prints and pictures still supply us with the best means to an understanding of the successive phases of his life. For despite the unflagging efforts of an impressive number of art historians during the last half century, little or no progress has been made towards defining the somewhat unclear profile of the artist given by Carel van Mander, in 1604, in his famous Schilderboek . The skeleton biography compiled by that eminent chronicler of early Netherlandish painting lacks some key pieces of information which all the industry of erudite researchers has so far failed to uncover or reconstitute. We have only conjectures to go on as to the master's birthplace and the date of his birth, the social background of his early years, how and when he took to painting, the time he came to Antwerp, the exact itineraries of his travels, the real reasons for his move to Brussels and the circumstances of his early death.

True, a precise knowledge of the facts might (as so often happens in such cases) tend to give undue prominence to anecdotal elements and submerge essentials in a mass of that "factual" apparatus whose limitations--narrowness of outlook, tameness and triviality--are only too familiar to us. Since, however, individual experience is always bound up with collective experience, we shall find in the latter a compensation for the lacunae of the former. Those very lacunae, in any case, have stimulated research work and critical scrutiny of the . . .

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