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

The Peasant Dance

c. 1567
Oil on oak panel, 114 x 164 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This panel, which is not dated, was painted at about the same time as The Peasant Wedding, that is, about 1567. The sizes of the two paintings are the same and they may have been intended as a pair or as part of a series illustrating peasant life. They are the two most outstanding examples of Bruegel's late style, which is characterized by his use of monumental Italianate figures.

The running and jumping steps of the village-square dance have nothing in common with the formal dances performed at court or in bourgeois circles. Nor do we find here the care for and adornment of one's face customary in more elevated circles, by means of which supposed faults of nature were to be corrected.

There is another version of this subject by Bruegel in a painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts. It is dated 1566 and although the surface is rather worn, it is today generally accepted as an authentic work from Bruegel's own hand. The composition is more crowded and in consequence more effective than the Vienna picture.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 26 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 212 (Bauernkantate)