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

The Conversion of Saul

Oil on panel, 108 x 156 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Bruegel shows Paul's army on its way to Damascus in contemporary dress and with sixteenth-century armour and weapons. The saint himself is in a blue doublet and hose of the painter's day. Bruegel, having lived in Italy, was not unfamiliar with classical dress: his intention in representing biblical scenes in contemporary dress was to stress their relevance to his own time. In view of the persecution and counter-persecution of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the story of Paul's conversion had especial significance.

This painting shows a biblical motif with political overtones. The painter has set Saul's conversion to Paul in a mountain landscape. The sea may be seen in the distance. It was from there, from the Italian coast, that the Spanish troops set off to cross the Alps, their task to drive out the heretics and crush Netherlands efforts to obtain more freedom.