Representations of demons and devils (1562)
by Pieter BRUEGEL the Elder

The sixteenth century saw the exploration of the Earth's surface, a fresh survey of the heavens, the examination of the human body, and the cataloguing of the animal and plant worlds. People's interest was focused upon reality. At that time, however, many will have regarded as real, as existing, not only trees and animals, but also demons. Many celestial phenomena, physical deformities, diseases and epidemics were as yet inexplicable, and were accordingly put down to the influence of devils and demons, together with their human accomplices. The latter alone, the witches and sorcerers, could be caught and punished. Thousands supposedly in league with the forces of evil - in particular women - were tortured, found guilty, and burnt at the stake.

In the visual arts, devils and demons are given striking expression in the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Bruegel used his own fantasy to develop the tradition established by Bosch. He executed three pictures of similar size for an unknown patron in c. 1562. In the Fall of the Rebel Angels he depicted the origins of the demons. In the Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) he assembled the figures of the underworld around Dulle Griet, a traditional figure in Flanders. In the Triumph of Death we encounter not brutish demons up to their mischief but skeletons using scythes to mow everyone down, be he a king or a cardplayer seeking to defend himself with his sword, a mercenary soldier or a pair of lovers making music all unsuspectingly.

The quality and richness of invention manifested in this series of paintings bear witness to Bruegel's familiarity with the world of demons.

Preview Picture Data Info
The Triumph of Death
c. 1562
Oil on panel, 117 x 162 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel, width of detail 43 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel, width of detail 34 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel, width of detail 43 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid


The Triumph of Death (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on panel
Museo del Prado, Madrid


Dulle Griet (Mad Meg)
c. 1562
Oil on wood, 117,4 x 162 cm
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp


Dulle Griet (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on wood
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp


Dulle Griet (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on wood
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp


Dulle Griet (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on wood
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp


Dulle Griet (detail)
c. 1562
Oil on wood
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp


The Fall of the Rebel Angels
1562
Oil on oak, 117 x 162 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels


The Fall of the Rebel Angels (detail)
1562
Oil on oak
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels


The Fall of the Rebel Angels (detail)
1562
Oil on oak
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels



Summary of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Paintings
Landscapes | Children's games | Proverbs
Village life | Demons and devils | Tower of Babel
Series of Months | Religious themes | St John the Baptist
Peasant life | Large figures | Miscellaneous
Graphics



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