Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Peasant Dance
1568, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna,
oil on oak panel, 114 x 164 cm

The Peasant Dance instructs us regarding the Protestant understanding of man’s place in the world in two ways. First, it is an artistic expression of the close interrelationship of common individuals with nature in God’s design. Second, upon closer examination we see that there is trouble in paradise. A fight is developing at the table on the left while everyone’s back is turned to the church seen in the background. A portrait of a Madonna is nailed to the tree on the right to which no one pays notice. A man is seen sitting near the bagpiper and is wearing a peacock feather in his cap, an iconological image for vanity, while a young couple shamelessly engages in public affection in the left middle ground. In all, th artist shows the duplicity of real life: a kermess (a festival celebrating a saint) has become a mere pretext for people to indulge their narcissism (Bruegel may also have Paul’s teaching on the proper administration of the Lord’s Table in view). We thus see “art reflecting life”; there is an open embrace not only of viability of God’s creation as a place for worship and for play, but also of its fallen state within which the Christian lives. The work is charged with the Protestant understanding of God’s grace and also of the depravity of man and of the truth, but an open avowal of real human nature brought to us by a brilliant technique.”

The road from Eden: studies in Christianity and culture
John Barber
Academica Press,LLC, 2008

“…peasant life in the mid 1500’s could well be described in the words of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes as “nasty, poor, brutish and short.” Moreover, the rhythm of peasant life was dictated by an annualized cycle that repeated itself year after year. If Bruegel idealized peasant life in his seasonal paintings, he naturalized it in his genre paintings. For it is in this paintings that the peasants show no signs of despair over the quality of their lives. To the contrary, they celebrate life despite its hardships. They feast. They drink. They dance. They make music. They kiss.They make love.”

Painting life: the art of Pieter Bruegel, the Elder
Robert L. Bonn, 2006

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