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

The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind

Tempera on canvas, 86 x 154 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

It was only later that Bruegel's pictures received their titles; they have since undergone change in the course of the centuries, most of the works being known today under a number of names. That given this work - which is also known as The Fall of the Blind - refers to Christ's parable concerning the Pharisees (Matthew 15:14): "And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."

In the parable of the blind leading the blind Christ was illustrating in readily appreciable physical form a spiritual condition — inner blindness to true religion. Bruegel gives visual expression to Christ's words in this truly tragic image. The frieze-like procession of the large-scale figures of six blind men reaches an agonizing climax in the terrified expression of the second, who is falling. In contrast to this staggering line of humanity is the church behind them, strong and solid, representing the faith which gives true vision. Once again, in a late work, Bruegel gives a particular and realistic interpretation to a Christian moral.

The blind were a subject of special fascination to Bruegel. He introduced a group into The Fight between Carnival and Lent and a drawing of 1562 in Berlin also shows a group of three blind people. Other paintings of the blind by Bruegel are mentioned in early inventories. His treatment of them is sympathetic without for a moment being patronizing.