Friday, September 4, 2009

Bruegel as Bosch

It's easy for one to make comparisons between the bizarre paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and those of his later Netherlandish counterpart, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. One can see similar interests in moralizing subject matter, bizarre imagery, and convoluted compositions by looking at these works by Bosch and Bruegel, respectively:

Hieronymous Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel), c. 1500

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559

(These paintings are both so detailed and awesome that I should dedicate a post to each of them. Does anyone have a favorite vignette in either of these images? I really like the man in the foreground of Netherlandish Proverbs who is banging his head against a brick wall.)

It makes sense the Bruegel would have been influenced by Bosch, since the latter was widely popularized through prints and imitated by many artists. What I think is interesting, though, is that Bruegel's print Big Fish Eat Little Fish (see image below) initially was sold as a Bosch engraving! This print was published by Hieronymus Cock, who was a leading humanist print publisher in Antwerp.1. It appears that Cock hired Bruegel to imitate Bosch's work; Cock might have used Bosch's name as a marketing strategy, since a Bosch print would sell more easily than something by the young (and lesser known) Bruegel.2

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1556

One can see how this print could fit into Bosch's canon of works, particularly due to the strange, nightmarish images. The title of the work also makes use of a popular proverb, which is similar to some of Bosch's titles. Furthermore, the print has a moralizing, didactic message (as emphasized by the father in the foreground, who points out the moral to his young child).

I wonder how Bruegel felt to have his work touted as a Bosch. Would Bruegel have been proud to have his work pass off as something by the popular and esteemed artist? Or perhaps he would have been upset that his handiwork was not recognized as his own?

1 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, eds., The Changing Status of the Artist, (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 111.

2 Ibid., 174.