The adoration of Magi (1566)

Brueghel The Elder, Pieter (1525-1569)

Art facts:

  • Artist: Pieter Bruegel, the Elder
  • Currently exhibits in Brussels at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Original size: 48″ х 66.5″ inches
  • This work is linked to Matthew 2:11

About the Artist:

Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, born c. 1525 A.D., died Sept. 5/9, 1569, Brussels, now in Belgium, is considered the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century. His landscapes, with vibrant and often witty scenes of peasant life, are particularly renowned. Since Bruegel signed and dated many of his works, his artistic evolution can be traced from his early landscapes, in which he shows affinity with the Flemish 16th-century landscape tradition, to his last works, which conform to a more Italian stylistic genre. He exerted a strong influence on painting in the Low Countries; the coastal region of Northwestern Europe. Through his sons Jan and Pieter, he became the ancestor of a dynasty of painters that survived into the 18th century.

A pioneer in the art world, this Dutch painter was the man behind Bruegel’s tremendous artistic dynasty during the Flemish Renaissance period.

In 1551 Bruegel became a master in the guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp, Belgium. Shortly after that, he set off for Italy and began drawing with Italian motifs, dated starting in 1552. By 1553 the artist was in Rome, where he worked with the miniaturist Giulio Clovio. He also seems to have visited Naples and traveled through the Italian Alps, returning to Antwerp in 1554. In 1555 Bruegel began to provide the Antwerp artist and publisher, Hieronymus Cock, with print designs. Their close association and friendship continued until Bruegel’s death.

The artist stayed in Antwerp until 1563, when he married Pieter Coecke’s daughter, Mayken, and moved to Brussels. Bruegel worked in Brussels until his death on the 9th of September, 1569. His two sons, Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564/1565-1638) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), followed in his footsteps as artists.

About the Painting:

               Peter Brueghel, the Elder, addressed the theme of the gospel three times in his artistic career. Art historians believe that all three paintings of the same name are part of a series. None of these works show the scene with the splendor or idealization of the subjects considered appropriate in the Catholic orthodoxy of the day. The first was painted between 1556 and 1562 and is very poorly preserved. The second version, dated 1564, is exhibited at the National Gallery of London. Bruegel used a relatively common style of Catholic iconography in these paintings. The center is the Holy Family surrounded by a jumble of other images. This picture is painted in warm colors to show the contrast between the figure of the Madonna and the environment, being a compositional center. The painting we are featuring here, dated 1566, is currently exhibited in Brussels at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.

               The Magi’s Adoration is a theme traditionally touched on by Flemish artists from the 15th and 16th centuries. However, in this work, Bruegel follows a more traditional iconography.

               This work is linked to Matthew 2:11

“And when they came into the house, they saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”

                “Many people mistakenly think that this historical incident of the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family happened at or very close to Christ’s birth. In reality, the Biblical account tells us that Jesus was probably around two years old when the Magi arrived and that his family had taken up temporary residence in Bethlehem. Shortly after the Magi visit, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt with his wife, Mary, and Jesus.  Wicked King Herod, jealous of the possibility of a rival Jewish king, ordered the infanticide of all baby boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger (Matt. 2:12-18).  While the entrance of the Son of God into this world was a beautiful picture of the love of God for humanity, the resistance of sinful mankind to God’s love is graphically and gruesomely illustrated by the tragic events which followed at the hands of a despotic Roman king.”