The Analysis of Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder


TheAnalysis of Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

TheAnalysis of Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder

Theartwork by Pieter Bruegel was known as the Massacre of the Innocentis one of the greatest paintings of northern Europe. The paintingreworks a biblical event where the newborns in Bethlehem were killedon the orders of King Herod. The painting consists of heavily armedcavalrymen massacring innocent children in a Flemish village. DuringPieter periods, he was known for a landscaping type of genre. Hisartwork often included open space and sketches of rural life. He hadexperienced villages being plundered by the Spanish army in variousparts of Flanders. There are two versions of this painting. One ofthe paintings is in the British Royal Collection at Hampton and theother in a museum known as Kunsthistiriches in Vienna. The originalartwork is damaged and is considered the one in the Hamptoncollection. The painting in Vienna is clear and shows the originalintentions of the artist for the slaughtered children have not beenremoved from the painting. The two paintings were drawn in theNetherlands did not just exemplify what happened in the bible.Therefore, there is need to understand that according to the theoriesused to analyze artworks people should understand that the paintingwas more about Netherlandish Renaissance and what was happeningduring that period and the role artist playing in shaping a society’spolitical, economic social dynamics.

Theartist made many artworks during that period. For example, The Censusat Bethlehem, The Procession to Calvary, The Adoration of the Kingsand many others in his panel of painting. The Massacre of theInnocence was different compared to other paintings since it kept alow setting and kept the new aesthetics of the Protestant ReformationArt during 1520 to 1700. According to numerous reviews, the paintingmay express the terror of the Duke of Alba regime (McKiernan, 2010).In this regime, it consisted of the black headed leader of horsemenwith a white bearded. However, according to the other reviews andanalysis, there is more information projected by the painting. Thisanalysis might be quite possible since the murderous equestrians inthe painting can be compared with the Spanish cavalry. The SpanishCalvary during that time was known for carrying their lances in anupward position. Crush dissent and Duke of Alba’s expedition torepress the people happened after Bruegel made the artwork andaccording to many studies, there were no Spanish troops in theFlemish village during that period. The period 1560 to 1567, theSpanish troops had not entered the Flemish village, and according toother reviews, the painting was condemning war and violence ingeneral (McKiernan, 2010). Some people argue that using the paintingto make a specific political point would not explain the wholerelevance and information expressed by the artist.

Thepainting can be analyzed through the details of the style the artistalways used. This artwork contains a wealth of carefully crafteddetail such as hi previous painting. The painting that has sametechnique includes Children Games (1559), lent and The Fight betweenCarnival (1559), The Towel of Babel (1563) and Netherlandish Proverbs(1559). The details in the painting include a family trying to pleadwith the soldiers for sympathy so as they do not kill their children.In the painting, there is a father to his son for safety and atroubled mother crying and lamenting about the murders of thechildren. Another part of the painting shows a soldier beingconvinced by a couple to consider taking their daughter instead oftheir son. The pictures show soldiers on their horses trying to lookfor more children in the houses. The picture contains much detailabout the murderous soldiers killing the children, blood and familieslamenting and crying. Soldiers are trying to probe a pile of babiesto confirm whether all the babies are dead and some of the villagersare pleading for help from a well-dressed equestrian. The equestrianis a young looking individual who seems to represent the soldiers theoriginal Roman Empire. These soldiers represented by the youngindividual failed to rein the regional satraps like King Herod. Somestories are being played in the painting, and they seem endless. Theanalysis of the picture shows that the artist is projecting andproviding much information for the audience to understand. The artistowes a significant debt to Hieronymus Bosch, his predecessor,according to the iconography of the painting. However, Bosch was aprisoner of his fantasies, and if he is compared to another artist,he was the supreme fantasist. The work of the Massacre of theInnocence, Triumph of Death (1562) and The Fall of the Rebels Angelsshowed how Bruegel at times is equally inventive(&quotPieterBruegel the Elder: art discourse in the sixteenth-centuryNetherlands,&quot 2012). The Massacre of the Innocent depictstraditional brutality subjected to helpless victims by individualswho have forgotten what Christianity is all about.

Moreover,the Massacre of the Innocents (1567), the religious and politicalbeliefs of Bruegel should be analyzed. A lot of Bruegel’s work isknown all over the world, but information on his political andreligious beliefs is minimal. One of the documents about Bruegel thatcan help us understand his beliefs is the biography written in 1604by Karel Van Mander. The biography is a two and a half page documentthat some minimal information that does not fully describe hisbeliefs. According to Pierre Francastel, Bruegel was indifferent toagony and arrogant to people around him. He was a great artist, andit is impossible to understand his religious and political alliancesince no document can fully explain his beliefs (&quotErrata: PieterBruegel the Elder: The Draftsman Revealed&quot, 2002). In theartwork, Massacre of the innocents there is no doubt that Bruegel ismaking a political statement. For a person to understand the workdone by Bruegel, more discovery about his life is required to beknown. Bruegel once told his wife to burn some of his artwork, whichcould make the state, prosecute his family. This shows his negativethoughts about the state and can be used to analyze the artwork. Thebasic theme about the Massacre of the Innocents is stated. The paintsexpress gruesome traits of individuals. Women are crying in despairfor their babies, and in the middle of the painting, babies are takenfrom the hands of their mothers. In the left center of paint, someonecannot help but notice how the stress level is subjected to a familyuntil he or she consider to offer their son instead of theirdaughter. The perplexing and melancholy in the face of the daughteris well seen in the painting as she understands and well aware ofwhat is happening.

Inthe painting, Bruegel has dressed all the peasants in a traditionalFlemish outfit. He has depicted the churches and homes to betypically Brabant. According to this review, it can be analyzed thatthe artist is using a biblical narrative as an allegory of whathappened to his surroundings during the same period. For example, thesame scenario happened in South Netherlands with the Spanishsoldiers. The blacked clothed leader in the painting can be comparedto the Duke of Alba seniors since they wore clothes that had the samestyle. The leader in the painting has a long white beard as theSpanish army leaders with high ranks. The Spanish soldiers carriedout a lance upfront, and in the paintings, the soldiers appear to dothe same. The German mercenaries who were included in the Alba’sarmy wore clothes that resembled several soldiers depicted in thearmy. Another possibility is the red flag observed in the paints. Theflag carried by the soldiers is over painted, but someone can stillnotice the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s coats of arms. This flag gives apossibility that the painting showed the brutality of the Spanishsoldier since the Phillip II of Spain had to be given the title ofking Jerusalem. This title given by Charles V made the Spanish tochange parts of their flag to resemble that of Jerusalem. Accordingto other analyses by researchers, they believe that the painting istrying to show resistance to the Spanish rule. The other paintingsthat Bruegel made might also try to provide similar informationdepicted from the Massacre of the Innocents. Another Bruegel artworkSt. John Preaching (1566) he depicted Flemish resistance to theSpanish rule and he still used a biblical setting with a true-to-lifeFlemish surrounding. The church background of the St. John Preachingcan still be seen today. There are high possibilities that thepainting provides information about the terror policy by Alba(&quotPieterBruegel the Elder: art discourse in the sixteenth-centuryNetherlands,&quot 2012). The artist also painted a Dutch proverbthat meant to mock the state. Most of his painting, possibly explainswhat happened politically in the area where he lived, and he usedbiblical scenarios to compare with his current experiences.

Inthe painting, people are kneeling by the side trying to beg with thesoldier to stop the killings. The soldiers are killing babies withoutcaring as observed by the facial expression on the recapped soldier.On the far right of the painting, there is a handsome man who isdisplaying a scorned face. On the left of a house in the painting,soldiers are urinating on the wall. This scenario can be referencedin the bible. For example, in Samuel, 25:22 says ‘he who urinatesagainst the wall’ refers to a gendercide happening in the painting.There are two inverted drums in the picture, and they are dripping ofsome black liquid. This scenario possibly represents the invertedworld where law and order are absent. Other paintings consist ofbirds in the air, making a sound, but this picture has one bird onthe roof and the ground, the scenario is not pleasant. In thepainting, the artist has introduced a sense of ‘karma.` The pictureshows soldiers trying to get into a house forcefully, and one of thedoors is already broken. The soldier who broke the door did notrealize that the door was holding an ice block. When the door broke,the ice hit the soldier on the head. The artist is trying to show adivine vengeance. This scenario shows that there are still hopes andnature has a way to solve issues. The two versions of the paint canbe analyzed separately. In the censored version, the dead baby on themother’s lap has been converted into a bundle of the leaves. On theleft side of the painting loaves of bread and cheese are observed,which previously showed a dead baby on the snow. In the center of thepainting, the baby was turned into a jar. Bloody chicken and geesewere put in the censored picture instead of the repeatedly stabbedchildren in the previous painting.

Theartist is known for his double entendre and the second censoredpicture tries to make the previous version less horrendous. Thiswork, according to numerous analyst is the smartest and most subtleway that Bruegel has expressed his political leniency. Another way aperson can understand the artwork by Bruegel is his actions shortlybefore he died. The artist instructed his wife to burn the sarcasticdrawing that targets the state to avoid complication with his family.The reason why he did was to protect his family from Stateprosecution. This action shows that the artist ideas were notpolitically neutral. It is possible that the paintings showed overreaction since what happened biblically could not be compared to whathappened with the Spanish soldier. The question why the artist toldhis wife to burn the pictures rises when people study his works andfor an artist to decide to destroy his artwork means that somethingwas not right. Unless there was danger be lying because of hisartwork, there no reason to destroy the works. This shows there wasanother painting that exerted much stronger stance against therulers. What Bruegel drew will never be known for the artwork willnever return to existence.

Foran individual to understand the content and the message of theMassacre of the innocents, they must understand where the artwork wasoriginally displayed. It is important to understand the type ofpeople who saw the artwork and what the artist was trying to informthem. Through this analysis, the current audience can understand thecontext of The Massacre of the Innocents. The artist Bruegel walkedamongst the professional cultured individual (Edwards, n.d.). Theseindividuals compromised of the merchants and the humanist. Hisartwork was not only sending a message to the common people, but alsoto the professionals around him. The individual who collected theartwork were his friends and concerned about the culture.

Inconclusion, the artwork Massacre of the innocents and Bruegel’sartwork functions as proxies for the narration of social andpolitical phenomena. His work functions as propaganda or reportage.His artwork shows the complexity of imagery and an existingrelationship between society and artwork. Bruegel paintings informthe audience about political oppression and brutality. The artworkMassacre of the innocents projects much information, but lackevidence to support the artistic notion. The painting lacks evidenceto support the notion of polemical imperatives. According toscholars, Bruegel depicted many things in his artwork that cannot bedepicted by others. He had a rhetorical style that implies to convertreligion-political iconography. The burning of his work was not agreat idea for his genius work is clear. The artwork of Bruegelpainted knowingly and discriminately. He discriminated the culture,humanity, professionals and political injustice. The artwork massacreof the innocents fully describes the rule of the Spanish leader.According to the painting, there was a lot of injustice andbrutality. The rulers subjected both children and parents toill-treatment. The artist is trying to inform the audience thatnobody was safe when the Spanish ruled. In the future, most of theBruegel’s artwork will be decoded, and maybe other paintings willbe discovered. However, Bruegel’s artwork will continue to impressthe audience since he was great at his work.


Edwards,J. Retrieved 8 November 2016, from

Errata:Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Draftsman Revealed. (2002).&nbspTheArt Bulletin,&nbsp84(4), 696.

McKiernan,M. (2010). Pieter Bruegel Tower of Babel 1563.&nbspOccupationalMedicine,&nbsp60(4), 247-248.

PieterBruegel the Elder: art discourse in the sixteenth-centuryNetherlands. (2012).&nbspChoiceReviews Online,49(12), 49-6691-49-6691.