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Not much is known about Pieter the Elder Bruegel’s background and family, creating many theories. Born approximately between the years 1525-1530 in Brabant, the State of the Holy Roman Empire, Bruegel became the most important name in Northern Renaissance. Early art historians contemplate on the possibility that the artist grew in a peasant background, because of the emphasis he gave on the theme in his work. Later on, with a better understanding of his artwork, other historians concluded that Bruegel must have been an educated townsman and that his portrayals of society were highly intellectual, based on his contact with the humanists.
The young artist began to study under Pieter Coecke Van Aelst in 1545 and continued for five years until Van Aelst’s death. A year after, he was named a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the patron saint of artists, in Antwerp. During the same period, Bruegel was working on an altarpiece, which is now lost, as an assistant to Peeter Baltens. After this, the artist traveled to Italy, France and risked himself in Southern Reggio Calabria in 1552, a tumultuous region where he witnessed the devastation after a Turkish raid. In 1553, he returned to Rome and by 1555 moved to Antwerp.
In 1863, Bruegel got married in Brussels to Mayken Coecke, who was the daughter of his painting teacher, Van Aelst. In Brussels, Bruegel had direct contact with the Humanist circles and the city was an essential governmental city in which he remained resident for the rest of his life. By this time, he dedicated himself fulltime to painting, and this became the pinnacle of his career. Bruegel’s artwork became extremely popular, especially amongst wealthy patrons, like Flemish art collectors, not to mention Titian’s patron, Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle. Like seen in The Peasant Dance, Bruegel was able to reinvigorate ordinary and even marginalized themes, like medieval subjects, peasants and land workers represented in the fines of oil painting. The theme became so prevalent in his work that many knew him as “Peasant Bruegel.”
Bruegel had three children, the two men became great artists - Jan Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger - and there is virtually no information about his daughter. Although they followed in their father’s footsteps, Bruegel passed away before he had the opportunity to train them formally. The artist changed his original name by dropping the “H” making it sound more Latin, possibly as a consequence of his contact with Humanist philosophy. Bruegel passed away on September 1569, around his mid-forties or early fifties. Although he passed away at a young age, his contribution to the art world is priceless.