BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
(b. ca. 1525, Brogel, d. 1569, Bruxelles)

The Census at Bethlehem (detail)

1566
Oil on oak
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Bruegel treats the biblical story, a rare subject in previous Netherlandish art, as a contemporary event. A reference to particular political events has been adduced - the severity of the Spanish administration in the southern Netherlands. However, Bruegel may well be making a more general criticism of bureaucratic methods.

The ruined castle in the background is based on the towers and gates of Amsterdam.