May 23, 2005

Bruegel: Seven Vices and a Virtue

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s publisher, the splendidly-named Hieronymus Cock, issued a series of prints based on drawings by the artist on the theme of the seven deadly sins, or vices, around 1556-7. Details from these follow below: click on them to see the images in full. As in my previous entry about Bruegel, these images were scanned from my copy of Bruegel and Lucas van Leyden: Complete Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts, edited by Jacques Lavalleye, published by Abrams, ca. 1967.

Detail from 'Ira' (Wrath, Anger), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

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Detail from 'Avaritia' (Covetousness, Greed), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

These compositions, crowded with grotesque and bizarre figures, clearly echo the work of that other Hieronymus, Mr. Bosch, aka Jeroen van Aken, ‘Maître de Bois-le-Duc,’ El Bosco. ‘It has been assumed that Bruegel’s chief reason for imitating Bosch in his graphic work was a commercial one: Bosch was simply more popular than Bruegel, and therefore engravings in the Bosch manner were more marketable than his own prints.’ Of course, Bruegel’s emulation of the elder artist’s style may have been as much an affectionate homage, as it was an opportunistic money-earner.

Detail from 'Invidia' (Envy, Jealousy), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

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Detail from 'Superbia' (Pride, Vanity), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

While the symbolism of many of the inhabitants of these engravings is far from obvious, some of the iconography is straightforward enough. In the first of pair of images directly above, for example, which depicts Invidia (Envy), the woman at the focus of the image is gnawing at a heart, and pointing, one presumes covetously, at an enormous, plump turkey. And in Superbia (Pride), a ruffed and corseted lady standing next to a (proverbially proud) peacock admires her own reflection…

Detail from 'Luxuria' (Lust), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

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Detail from 'Gula' (Gluttony), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

In addition to these vices, I’ve also included an extra image, an odd-one-out, depicting a virtue: Patientia (Patience, the last image, below). This was executed at around the same time as the vices, and shares the same Bosch-inspired imagery. A few years later, Bruegel also produced a series of prints depicting the cardinal & theological virtues, but these, while perhaps more accomplished in execution, seem less interesting to my eye, not surprisingly perhaps, considering their necessarily strait-laced subject-matter.

Detail from 'Acedia' (Sloth), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

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Detail from 'Patientia' (Patience), engraving after a design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1556/7.

Incidentally, although the proverb tells us ‘patience is a virtue,’ it is, in the Catholic scheme of things at least, neither a Cardinal nor a Capital virtue, but rather one of the twelve ‘fruits of the holy spirit.’ These engravings can also be found on-line here, although the scans are even blurrier than mine.

Posted by misteraitch at May 23, 2005 01:36 PM
Comments

Funny how these engravings are much more like Bosch's work than his own painting on the subject of 7 deadly sins (which is at the Prado):
http://gallery.euroweb.hu/html/b/bosch/painting/7deadly.html

Posted by: claudia on May 25, 2005 12:23 AM

magnificent -- as always. Thank you for being around.

Posted by: Deborah Griffin Bly on May 25, 2005 06:10 PM

altijd weer die belgen h..

Posted by: hemaworstje on May 29, 2005 05:25 AM

i am doing a research on the relationship between Velly series of 6 engravings called grotesque (one through six)
http://www.velly.org/oeuvre-grave/grotesque-I.htm

and the 7 deadly sins.
You are always there to help ...

thank you

Pierre

Posted by: pierre Higonnet on August 24, 2005 02:12 PM
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