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

Magpie on the Gallow

Oil on oak panel, 46 x 51 cm
Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt

Following his customary practice, Bruegel painted a further landscape view in the year before his death. He depicted a plain with fertile meadows and fields, people cheerfully dancing, and a village lying concealed in the shadow of a clifftop castle. The painting conveys the impression of harmony and peace, disturbed only by the gallows in the centre. Unlike death by the sword, death on the gallows was considered dishonourable. And yet a man at bottom left is acting according to the proverb "to shit at the gallows", meaning that he is not concerned about death and the authorities, while "dancing under the gallows" was employed to describe someone who either did not see danger or was not afraid of it.