Pieter Bruegels Historical Imagination

By (author) Stephanie Porras

Hardback - £63.95

Publication date:

23 February 2016

Length of book:

216 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271070896

The question of how to understand Bruegel’s art has cast the artist in various guises: as a moralizing satirist, comedic humanist, celebrator of vernacular traditions, and proto-ethnographer. Stephanie Porras reorients these apparently contradictory accounts, arguing that the debate about how to read Bruegel has obscured his pictures’ complex relation to time and history.

Rather than viewing Bruegel’s art as simply illustrating the social realities of his day, Porras asserts that Bruegel was an artist deeply concerned with the past. In playing with the boundaries of the familiar and the foreign, history and the present, Bruegel’s images engaged with the fraught question of Netherlandish history in the years just prior to the Dutch Revolt, when imperial, religious, and national identities were increasingly drawn into tension. His pictorial style and his manipulation of traditional iconographies reveal the complex relations, unique to this moment, among classical antiquity, local history, and art history.

An important reassessment of Renaissance attitudes toward history and of Renaissance humanism in the Low Countries, this volume traces the emergence of archaeological and anthropological practices in historical thinking, their intersections with artistic production, and the developing concept of local art history.

“A thoughtful, intelligent, and learned book. Stephanie Porras culminates many (lesser but) related studies on Pieter Bruegel with new material and a defining argument and provides the most current assessment of the painter’s peasant subjects. For art historians it will serve as a rich mine of cultural history, literary history, intellectual history, and even music history about Flemish culture on the eve of the Dutch Revolt.”

—Larry Silver, University of Pennsylvania