Continue to content

The Brueg(H)el Phenomenon

Paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger with a Special Focus on Technique and Copying Practices

C. Currie & D. Allart
ISBN 978-2-930054-14-8
2012, KIK-IRPA, 1062 p.
Available in English
€ 120

First monograph on the painting technique of Peter Bruegel the Elder...

This volume is the culmination of a long-term research program carried out by KIK-IRPA in partnership with the University of Liège; it has benefited from the generous collaboration of 19 Belgian and foreign museums and numerous private collections.

The fascination for the works of Pieter Bruegel in the decades following his death in 1569 is only matched by the public interest they stimulate today. At the end of the sixteenth century and in the first half of the seventeenth century, the most ambitious art collectors fought over the rare paintings by the master that were still on the market. This context was the catalyst for the appearance of copies and pastiches; genuine forgeries were also produced.

It was then that the elder son of Pieter Bruegel, known as Brueghel the Younger (whose name is spelt ‘Brueghel', conforming to the signature that he adopted during the initial phase of his career) emerged as a legitimate successor, using working material inherited from his father. He produced astonishingly faithful replicas, all the more surprising given that they were often reproductions of paintings that were by then scattered in diverse and often inaccessible private collections. Working together with his studio, in which there was a streamlined organisation of work following a well-established practice in Antwerp during the period, Brueghel supplied the market with hundreds of copies of variable quality according to the client. This fascinating phenomenon merited an in-depth study and re-evaluation, taking into account the historical and economic context.

...combined with an in-depth study of the identical copies made by Peter Brueghel the Younger

The examinations undertaken within the framework of a wide-reaching program of study comprise a representative sample of paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In relation to the latter, crucial discoveries were made, leading to a reconsideration of his art as well as the evolution of painting practice in the Southern Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The study therefore also provides an in-depth account of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's working techniques. Aside from the examination of a series of works by the latter artist, and in the light of observations made on them, the controversial Fall of Icarus from the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is re-considered.

As to the works produced by Pieter Brueghel the Younger's studio, new scientific imagery and analysis enabled an intimate comparison of their techniques of execution. This revealed common technological traits that distinguish works produced under the master's direct control from those produced outside his workshop. Practical reconstructions of procedures used in his studio bring these techniques to life and make them more easily understandable. Subtle stylistic characteristics were also detected amongst the paintings examined, making it possible to identify in a significant number of cases the individual hand of Brueghel the Younger as opposed to that of one or other of his assistants.

More than a thousand images illustrate this volume, on the text and the accompanying website. In this way, visual material relative to the over 70 works studied is available to art historians and the wider scientific community: detailed examinations of the surface, infrared reflectography, X-radiography, dendrochronological data, chemical analyses (notably Raman spectography, GC-MS and SEM-EDX).

Buyers of the book will also have access to a website with more than 2000 extra illustrations:

Detective story and visual archive, the ‘Bruegel box’ is now the standard reference on the technique and copying practices of Pieter Bruegel and his first-born son. It makes a wonderful gift too – a jewel-box for anyone who loves Bruegel. And who doesn’t?

O. Bonebakker (HNA review)

The hundreds of close-ups of details from Pieter the Elder’s originals set against various replicas – which are by no means uniform in quality – represent an unmissable object lesson in the difference between a great painter and a whole host of bad ones

D. Ekserdjian (Apollo, March 2013)

This project achieves its ambitious goals : to characterize Bruegel the Elder’s painting technique and lost graphic material and to survey the copying procedures of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, who extended his father’s sought-after compositions into the 17th century and even to the present, where his works now command lofty auction prices despite their inferior execution. Its boxed three volumes provide a weighty reference – the gift that keeps on giving – for any future Bruegel (and Brueghel) appreciation

L. Silver (Cassone, April 2013)

This excellent study is an exemplary demonstration of how useful technical analysis can be when the research is so thorough and cohesive ; the book can be relied upon by conservators and art historians to reassess existing works that were not part of the present study and to help attribute copies which might be unearthed in the future

A. Tate-Harte (The Picture Restorer, Spring 2013)
Want to know more about this publication or project? Please contact us:
Show email

More publications of KIK-IRPA


Early Netherlandish Painting (1400-1500)

H. Mund & C. Stroo (ed.) (1998)
€ 20
More details
CVGB7 cover

The Stained Glass of Herkenrode Abbey

I. Lecocq & Y. Vanden Bemden (2021)
Corpus Vitrearum. Great Britain
More details