Bruegel as Bosch

It’s easy for one to make comparisons between the bizarre paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and those of his later Netherlandish counterpart, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. One can see similar interests in moralizing subject matter, bizarre imagery, and convoluted compositions by looking at these works by Bosch and Bruegel, respectively:

Hieronymous Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel), c. 1500

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559

(These paintings are both so detailed and awesome that I should dedicate a post to each of them. Does anyone have a favorite vignette in either of these images? I really like the man in the foreground of Netherlandish Proverbs who is banging his head against a brick wall.)

It makes sense the Bruegel would have been influenced by Bosch, since the latter was widely popularized through prints and imitated by many artists. What I think is interesting, though, is that Bruegel’s print Big Fish Eat Little Fish (see image below) initially was sold as a Bosch engraving! This print was published by Hieronymus Cock, who was a leading humanist print publisher in Antwerp.1. It appears that Cock hired Bruegel to imitate Bosch’s work; Cock might have used Bosch’s name as a marketing strategy, since a Bosch print would sell more easily than something by the young (and lesser known) Bruegel.2

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1556

One can see how this print could fit into Bosch’s canon of works, particularly due to the strange, nightmarish images. The title of the work also makes use of a popular proverb, which is similar to some of Bosch’s titles. Furthermore, the print has a moralizing, didactic message (as emphasized by the father in the foreground, who points out the moral to his young child).

I wonder how Bruegel felt to have his work touted as a Bosch. Would Bruegel have been proud to have his work pass off as something by the popular and esteemed artist? Or perhaps he would have been upset that his handiwork was not recognized as his own?

1 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, eds., The Changing Status of the Artist, (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 111.

2 Ibid., 174.

  • heidenkind says:

    How interesting! I didn't know this. To be honest, I know practically nothing about Bosch and Bruegel beyond what I learned in Art History Survey; I've never had a chance to study them. I would love to know more, though!

  • Nicjor79 says:

    Bosch is quite possibly my favorite artist of all time; as brilliant as Bruegel was I don't think he held a candle to Bosch, although I will admit that I have confused their work several times. The first time I saw The Fall of the Rebel Angels I refused to believe it wasn't by Bosch.

  • e says:

    So, this post was a little over my head in that I'm not sure I know these artists, however, I can't take my eyes off of "Big Fish Eat Little Fish" — I swear I've seen it many times as a child, or perhaps, I can see myself as a child looking at it and being so grossed out, yet intrigued, that I can't take my eyes off of it.

    Seems that these artists also really remind me of all things "Hansel and Gretel" — the look, the time period, etc. Is that odd?

  • kashurst says:

    I have loved "The Garden of Earthly Delights" since I was little! It's just so weird! My favorite is the couple at the bottom left dancing with the owl on their heads! Or matbe the trio in the bubble just above and to the left of the owl! So bizarre!

  • M says:

    Oh, that owl couple is awesome, kashurst! I have to admit, I've never really noticed it before (there are so many things to grab one's attention in that scene!). Very fun.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.