Called Pieter Bruegal the Elder to distinguish him from his eldest son by the same name, he was the first in a family of Flemish painters. He is considered the greatest Flemish painter of the 16th century and is the most successful artist arising from his creative family.
Bruegal the Elder was born in about 1525 in Breda in the Duchy of Brabant (now known as the Netherlands.) In 1551, he was accepted as a master in the Antwerp painters’ guild and became the apprentice of Coecke van Aelst, a leading Antwerp artist. During that year, he traveled to Italy and completed a number of landscape paintings there.
In 1563, Bruegal the Elder moved to Brussels and married van Aelst’s daughter. His association with the van Aelst family inspired him to follow the artistic traditions of the Mechelen region which included a strong penchant for allegorical and peasant themes that would illustrate the absurd and vulgar in fine detail. Some of Bruegal the Elder’s paintings during this period include “Peasant Wedding Feast” (1567) and “The Peasant Dance” (1568).
Bruegal the Elder’s style was truly original as his paintings were able to convey a narrative or story. His themes ranged from conventional Biblical scenes to religious allegories and social satires. Nevertheless, his strongest inspiration came from nature and the European landscape.
Bruegal the Elder remained popular throughout the span of his career and his paintings have risen in stature throughout the course of art history. It is estimated that he died in Brussels sometime between September 5 and 9, in 1569.