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

The Cripples

1568
Oil on wood, 18 x 21 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Though small in scale, this work concisely expresses Bruegel's sarcastic, anguished, but ultimately sympathetic view of the human condition. It has been suggested both that he is depicting a simple scene of the departure of the lepers of Lazaretto for a carnival, and that the cripples have a political, sociological, or moral significance, but in either case the artist gives a powerful impression of the physical misery and the moral isolation of these outcasts.

Bruegel depicts the cripples in isolation in this late picture. A woman is withdrawing, presumably having brought them food. The cripples appear excited; we cannot detect why. The different headwear could indicate the various social stations: mitre (clergy), fur hat (citizen), cap (peasant), helmet (soldier), crown (aristocrat). "A lie goes like a cripple on crutches," says a Netherlands proverb. This would mean that all of society is hypocritical. It is not this allegory which is of interest to us today, however, but rather Bruegel's view of maimed people.