BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
(b. ca. 1525, Brogel, d. 1569, Brussel)
The Adoration of the Kings (detail)1564
Oil on wood, width of detail 26 cm
National Gallery, London
In the chronological sequence of Bruegel's work, this painting of 1564 marks an important departure as the first to be composed almost exclusively of large figures. The group of figures, taken from Italian mannerist painters like Parmigianino, permits Bruegel to concentrate on individual faces, giving each a quite distinct, and sometimes grotesque, expression. This emphasis on the uniqueness of each figure, and Bruegel's lack of interest in depicting ideal beauty in the Italian manner, makes it clear that although borrowing an Italian compositional scheme, Bruegel is putting it to quite a different use. In this treatment, the painter's first purpose is to record the range and intensity of individual reactions to the sacred event.