IN every one of Jan van Eyck's works, more, in every part of any work, in every head, every hand, his greatness can be demonstrated. His masterly observation and interpretation is concentrated in each detail and it is in this mastery that his historical importance lies.
In our eagerness to reveal Pieter Bruegel's greatness we should like to line up everything by the master we can lay our hands on--with the uneasy feeling that with every work of his that has perished something of his title to fame has perished too. But our desire to proclaim his worth is all the more intense because not many art lovers have a full idea of the extent and richness of his creative power. The master does not seem to occupy his rightful place in the public mind. It is to be feared that even to mention Jan van Eyck and Bruegel in one breath may sound provocative.
There is more than one painter named Bruegel, Brueghel or Breughel. But the family produced only one great master. And he was the eldest, the founder of the dynasty, Pieter, nicknamed ' Peasant-Bruegel'.
The second Pieter Brueghel was nothing but an imitator and copyist who lived on his father's heritage, whilst Jan, the other son, though more independent, was yet a painter of lesser stature. The elder master spelt his name (with but few exceptions): Bruegel, the sons preferred the spelling Brueghel.
Bruegel is the name of a place. There are two villages of that name, either possible as the birth-place of the painter; both lie east of Antwerp, the one not far from Hertogenbosch, the other further south in the province of Limburg.
The name ' Peeter Brueghels' appears in the Antwerp guild list of 1551. At that time the painter became free master. He died in Brussels in 1569. With the aid of van Mander's account, and a variety of combinations, attempts have been made to complete his biography. Bruegel is alleged to have been a pupil of Pieter Coeck van Alost in Antwerp and to have married his teacher's daughter Maria, whom he had carried in his arms when she was a child. So van Mander relates. Maria, Coeck's daughter, cannot have been born before 1540 or (since she married in 1563) after 1545. If we accept the story that Bruegel carried the child in his arms when he was an apprentice, then the years of his apprenticeship must