Pieter Brueghel (The Elder) – Fool’s Paradise

Good art is not limited to solemn and austere subjects. Too often, it is true, pictures expressing broad slap-stick comedy depend on subject-matter for their appeal, neglecting design. Pieter Brueghel; however, could win the nick-name of ” Droll Pieter”‘ for his rustic humor, and yet express his jokes in well-organized pictorial form. Neither the joke—soldier, farmer and scholar dreaming of good eatables that get up and walk—nor the form, is especially subtle. But there is something perennially vigorous, healthy and close to the earth, in the rough good spirits of Brueghel’s peasant comedies —these sprawling youths, and all his wed-ding feasts and country sports. And the designs in which his figures are arranged provide an added decorative appeal that is often missing in pictures of like subjects by the Dutch genre painters. In addition, they help present the essentials of the story with concentrated force. There are always distinctive formal themes: sometimes everyone and everything is emaciated; sometimes. bursting with fatness. Sometimes many tiny figures are seen from a distance, as in the Return of the Hunters at Vienna; sometimes large ones close at hand, as in this example. Here there are V-shaped angles (plump legs, tools, roof and tree) contrasting with disc-shaped cakes and table-top. They revolve about the tree like a blissful merry-go-round, slightly reeling and unbalanced; and the empty jug above may be intended as a clue to the reason. The coloring is plain, rich and deep, as befits good food: wine-color, dark reds and yellowish browns against a mossy green hill.