Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525/30-1569)
Much of Bruegel’s work depicts the pre-Enlightenment peasant contained in the paradigm of the universal (Roman Catholic) church, free from the existential angst that lies just around the corner. Humanity in the 16th century lives in harmony with nature which gives rhythm and meaning to life. “His true subject is Nature herself, with man an integral part of her growth, decay and rebirth.”[i] Bruegel captures the feeling of the worldview that believes God is on his throne and all is right with the world. “The idea of the ultimate benevolence of nature and God is the most potent of man’s survival mechanisms. Without it, culture would revert to fear and despair.”[ii]
Although much has changed in the 400 years since Bruegel stood before his canvases, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) reminded us that one of the most important questions each of us must answer is: Is the Universe friendly? In Bruegel’s time the peasants he painted would have answered “of course.” Because the inhabitants of the modern world are not contained in a worldview that support an affirmative response to Einstein’s question, we live with fear and doubt.
[i] Piper, David. The Illustrated History of Art. Octopus Publishing Group, London. 1986, page 163.
[ii] Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae. Random House, New York. 1990, page 1.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.