As a photographer I’m constantly thinking about the composition of images and how to create photographs that are innovative and unique. A recent trip to Brussels and the nearby Pajottenland brought opportunities to view inspirational artworks by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, an artist who died 450 years ago.
Disclosure: My flights between Newcastle and Brussels were supplied courtesy of Loganair, which has not reviewed or approved this article.
Photographers often say that they are looking to put a unique and personal perspective on what they see. Bruegel achieved that though he lived three centuries before the invention of photography. Using his brushes and oil paint he depicted the world in ways that had never been done previously.
Brussels’ Royal Museum of Fine Arts
During a guided tour of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels I heard how Bruegel was the first artist to depict scenes from an elevated perspective — from a bird’s eye view — and is credited as being the first artist to paint winter landscapes.
What is it that inspires an artist to do something that nobody has ever previously done?
Why hadn’t artists previously stepped outside during wintertime to sketch or paint? During Bruegel’s lifetime the climate of Flanders underwent what has been termed a ‘little ice age’. Northern Europe experienced a series of harsh winters. Perhaps observing what was happening around him inspired Bruegel to depict the winter in landscapes?
A digitised immersive experience
Bruegel certainly observed people. He is famed for his depictions of peasant life. That aspect of his painting comes to life via the digitised animation of Beyond Bruegel. The immersive experience is being projected in Brussels’ Palais de la Dynastie until January 2020. Set to music, the characters of Bruegel’s paintings are shown in detail that would be difficult to observe simply by looking at a painting in a museum gallery.
The Flemish master’s depictions of feasts, such as The Peasant Wedding, count among his most celebrated works.
That aspect of Bruegel’s work is reinterpreted by contemporary artists in the Feast of Fools exhibition, which runs at Gaasbeek Castle until 28 July 2019.
Landscape paintings by Bruegel feature scenes drawn from various locations. In that sense he worked in a similar way to a modern Photoshop artist who selects elements from multiple photos.
Bruegel’s Eye at Dilbeek
The church and watermill at Dilbeek in the Pajottenland, just west of Brussels, feature in Bruegel’s works The Blind Leading the Blind and The Magpie on the Gallows.
The two locations are the terminal points of Bruegel’s Eye, an exhibition that encourages visitors to stroll seven kilometres through the countryside in which Bruegel worked. Continuing until 31 October 2019, the exhibition features 15 installations by artists and designers.
450 years on from his death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s legacy continues to impress and inspire.
I flew from Newcastle to Brussels with Loganair. The direct flight between the two cities has a duration of about 85 minutes.
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