Tag Archives: Haymaking by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

#FineArtFriday: The Hay Harvest by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Haymaking,_Pieter_Brueghel_the_Elder (1)Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

Title: The Hay Harvest

Genre: genre art

Date: 1565

Medium: oil on panel

Dimensions: Height: 117 cm (46 in) Width: 161 cm (63.3 in)

According to the Web Gallery of Art, Haymaking, also known as The Hay Harvest, belongs to the Series of the Months. All the other panels in this series are dated 1565. July and August are the months when most summer crops are harvested. This painting and the August panel (The Corn Harvest) show the bringing-in of the harvest.

Workers scythe grain in the large field toward the center of the painting. In the foreground, other laborers harvest vegetables and pick berries. Everyone works to bring in the food, men, women, and children, as winter isn’t that far away, and the hay will sustain the draft animals in the long cold months ahead.

While each painting in the series shows the traditional occupation of that month, Bruegel’s real subject is the landscape itself, its ever-changing appearance.

I have always loved Bruegel the Elder’s work because he portrays the gathering of food as a fundamental human activity. He shows us that the quantity of food we have on our tables is determined by the knowledge and labor of others.

The variety of foods we have available to us is dictated by the form of the landscape. To carve a living from the earth a farmer must understand and care for the land that sustains them. They must know what areas of soil will be best for each crop and use that knowledge when laying out how the fields will be planted, as each crop has different nutrient requirements. Within one valley, many types of soils will exist, so what serves to grow hay may not work for more delicate vegetables.

In the lush bounty of this painting, Bruegel the Elder shows us the wisdom of farmers, knowledge that sustains us to this day. He illustrates the way all people who grow and gather our food are bound to the land.

In this regard, we who grow food in our back gardens understand and respect the labors of those small farmers who grow produce for our local markets.

About the series, Months of the Year, via Wikipedia:

(Bruegel’s) famous set of landscapes with genre figures depicting the seasons are the culmination of his landscape style; the five surviving paintings use the basic elements of the world landscape (only one lacks craggy mountains) but transform them into his own style. They are larger than most previous works, with a genre scene with several figures in the foreground, and the panoramic view seen past or through trees. Bruegel was also aware of the Danube School‘s landscape style through prints.

The series on the months of the year includes several of Bruegel’s best-known works. In 1565, a wealthy patron in Antwerp, Niclaes Jonghelinck, commissioned him to paint a series of paintings of each month of the year. There has been disagreement among art historians as to whether the series originally included six or twelve works. Today, only five of these paintings survive and some of the months are paired to form a general season. Traditional Flemish luxury books of hours (e.g., the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry; 1416) had calendar pages that included the Labours of the Months, depictions set in landscapes of the agricultural tasks, weather, and social life typical for that month.

Bruegel’s paintings were on a far larger scale than a typical calendar page painting, each one approximately three feet by five feet. For Bruegel, this was a large commission (the size of a commission was based on how large the painting was) and an important one. In 1565, the Calvinist riots began and it was only two years before the Eighty Years’ War broke out. Bruegel may have felt safer with a secular commission so as to not offend Calvinist or Catholic. Some of the most famous paintings from this series included The Hunters in the Snow (December–January) and The Harvesters (August). [1]

About the Artist, Via Wikipedia:

Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel or Breughelthe Elder c. 1525–1530 – 9 September 1569) was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter and printmaker, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so-called genre painting); he was a pioneer in making both types of subject the focus in large paintings.

He was a formative influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and later painting in general in his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the natural subject matter of painting. He also painted no portraits, the other mainstay of Netherlandish art. After his training and travels to Italy, he returned in 1555 to settle in Antwerp, where he worked mainly as a prolific designer of prints for the leading publisher of the day. Only towards the end of the decade did he switch to make painting his main medium, and all his famous paintings come from the following period of little more than a decade before his early death, when he was probably in his early forties, and at the height of his powers.

As well as looking forwards, his art reinvigorates medieval subjects such as marginal drolleries of ordinary life in illuminated manuscripts, and the calendar scenes of agricultural labours set in landscape backgrounds, and puts these on a much larger scale than before, and in the expensive medium of oil painting. He does the same with the fantastic and anarchic world developed in Renaissance prints and book illustrations.

He is sometimes referred to as “Peasant Bruegel”, to distinguish him from the many later painters in his family, including his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564–1638). From 1559, he dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel; his relatives continued to use “Brueghel” or “Breughel”. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Haymaking, Pieter Brueghel the Elder.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Haymaking,_Pieter_Brueghel_the_Elder.jpg&oldid=431869636 (accessed August 5, 2021).

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Pieter Bruegel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder&oldid=1028859234 (accessed August 5, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Pieter Bruegel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder&oldid=1028859234 (accessed August 5, 2021).

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