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Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Mysterious and Complex Characters

By Nina Siegal
The true genius of the Bruegel clan was the father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, widely acknowledged as the greatest Netherlandish painter of the 16th century.

T o mark the 450th anniversary of his death, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has assembled the world's first ever monograph exhibition dedicated to the master, featuring panel paintings, drawings and prints, including the recently restored The Triumph of Death, 1562–63, from Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado.

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Pieter Bruegel d. Ä., The Triumph of Death 1562–63. © Museo Nacional del Prado.

Works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are extremely rare; just over forty paintings by Bruegel's own hand exist today. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is well suited to present his oeuvre. The Museum owns the largest collection, with twelve works in oil on panel in its permanent collection.

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Pieter Bruegel d. Ä., The Tower of Babel, 1563. © KHM-Museumsverband

The presentation in Vienna is a stunning and historic collection of his greatest works from some of the world's most esteemed museums. It is also a testament to the artist's longstanding popularity among some of the greatest houses in Europe. Already in the 16th century, Hapsburg collectors recognized the exceptional quality of Bruegel's inventive imagery and endeavored to acquire original works. The moral quality of Bruegel's creations, teeming with symbolic imagery buried within complex compositions, has intrigued viewers ever since. Given the provenance, popularity, and rarity of these masterpieces, it is no surprise that few museums have ever sent his works out on loan. The Kunsthistorisches Museum's exhibition, then, will be nearly as historic as the works themselves.

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Pieter Bruegel d. Ä., The Hunters in the Snow, 1565. © KHM-Museumsverband.

“Our aim is to bring the visitor as close as possible to the surprisingly innovative, witty, and socially critical aspects of Bruegel’s oeuvre,” says Sabine Pénot, curator of Netherlandish and Dutch Paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and chief curator of the exhibition. “We will [allow visitors] to get intimately acquainted with the hand of the master.”

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