BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
(b. ca. 1525, Brogel, d. 1569, Brussel)
Oil on wood, 118 x 161 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
The painting is referred to as the "encyclopaedia of Flemish children's games". It represents about 84 games some of them are practiced until present days. There is also an assumption that the painting is part of a four-piece cycle representing either the Four Seasons or the Ages of Man. If that was Bruegel's intention, it is unlikely that the series progressed beyond this painting, for there are no contemporary or subsequent mentions of related pictures.
Bruegel has portrayed over 250 children on this panel. They are playing with pieces of wood, with bones, with hoops and barrels - specially crafted toys were rare in the 16th century. Their faces often appear ageless: perhaps the painter wished to warn the observer against frittering away his life as if it were a childlike game. The children, who range in age from toddlers to adolescents, roll hoops, walk on stilts, spin tops, ride hobby-horses, stage mock tournaments, play leap-frog and blind man's buff, perform handstands, inflate pigs' bladders and play with dolls and other toys. They have also taken over the large building that dominates the square: it may be a town hall or some other important civic building, in this way emphasizing the moral that the adults who direct civic affairs are as children in the sight of God. This crowded scene is to some extent relieved by the landscape in the top left-hand corner; but even here children are bathing in the river and playing on its banks.
In addition to the games in the left part of the background a typical Flemish landscape, while on the right a street with excellent perspective can be seen.