Hidden Belgium: Bruegel in Brussels

Hidden Belgium: Bruegel in Brussels

A curious bronze statue was placed outside the Kapellekerk in Brussels in 2019.

Created by the sculptor Tom Franzen, it shows the bearded artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder sitting at his easel while perched on his shoulder is a monkey wearing a funnel as a hat. Unveiled to mark the 450th anniversary of Bruegel’s death, the statue neatly captures the artist’s weird sense of humour.

We don’t know much about the artist who called himself Pieter Brueghel. He was born Pieter van Breda in the village of Brueghel, near Breda, between 1525 and 1530. At some point, he began working in Antwerp in the print workshop run by Hieronymus Cock. He then moved to Brussels, married his teacher’s daughter in 1562 and died seven years later.

His name has caused endless confusion, as he changed it at some point to Brueghel and then started to sign his works Bruegel (no h) in 1558. Bruegel’s sons and grandsons (many of them artists) just added to the confusion.

The sons went back to the old spelling Brueghel, while the grandsons used the shorter Bruegel. And, just when you think you have got it, you discover that Pieter Brueghel the Younger spent his time copying his father’s paintings, so it can be difficult to separate the copies from the originals.

But Pieter Bruegel the Elder was the creative genius. This astonishingly versatile artist created astonishing works that ranged from crowded paintings representing old Netherlands proverbs to weird drawings of imaginary creatures inspired by Hieronymus Bosch.

His name is attached to about 45 paintings and 65 drawings, although only a few works remain in Belgium. His painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is in the Fine Arts Museum in Brussels, while the menacing Dulle Griet is in the Mayer van den Bergh Museum in Antwerp. But the most famous works – like The Wedding Feast and The Tower of Babel – are in foreign collections.

There was a plan to create a Bruegel museum in a 16th-century Brussels townhouse at 123 Hoogstraat. A plaque on the outside wall records that Bruegel lived here. Only it turns out he didn’t. And so the plan was dropped.

Bruegel might have been amused.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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