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223 × 144 × 23 mm
272 pages
65 illustrations, 60 in colour
10 Jun 2019
Renaissance Lives

Pieter Bruegel and the Idea of Human Nature Elizabeth Alice Honig

In 16th-century northern Europe, during a time of increasing religious and political conflict, Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel redefined how people perceived human nature. Bruegel turned his critical eye to mankind’s labours and pleasures, its foibles and rituals of daily life. Portraying landscapes, peasant life and biblical scenes in startling detail, Bruegel questioned how well we really know ourselves and also how we know, or visually read, others. His work often represented mankind’s ignorance and insignificance, emphasizing the futility of ambition and the absurdity of pride, and he would became one of the most significant artists of the Renaissance period.

This superbly illustrated volume examines how Bruegel’s art and ideas enabled people to ponder what it meant to be human. Published to coincide with the 450th anniversary of Bruegel’s death, it will appeal to all those interested in art and philosophy, the Renaissance and the painting of the Dutch Golden Age.

‘In his own time, Pieter Bruegel’s art has been praised as the ultimate achievement in the representation of nature . . . Elizabeth Honig’s book is the first to make us realize that this appraisal pertains to the representation of human nature of the people surrounding him – workers in the field, citizens of Antwerp and Brussels, noblemen, children, mercenaries, lepers, religious dignitaries, art lovers, humanists and the like – and of humanity in general, inward and outward woman and man included. Bruegel’s own personality and convictions, she writes, largely remain opaque, but it is thanks to Honig’s marvellous descriptions of some of Bruegel’s most renowned pictures that our eyes are opened to both the ‘idea of nature’ as people conceived of it in his time, but also to Bruegel’s personal, deeply perceptive ideas about human nature.’ — Reindert Falkenburg, Professor of Early Modern Art and Culture, NYU Abu Dhabi

‘Eloquently and effectively, Elizabeth Honig fulfills the promise of her title with a fresh, close look at Bruegel, amongst contemporaries, within his tumultuous era. She clearly articulates how the artist examined themes concerning basic human nature across his career. But in the process, she reminds us that while this thoughtful, engaged man laughed at the vices and follies of all humankind, like Democritus, he also, self-consciously, ultimately left us mute images to interpret alone.’ — Larry Silver, Professor Emeritus of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, and author of Rembrandt's Holland

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Elizabeth Alice Honig is Professor of European Art History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Jan Brueghel and the Senses of Scale, Painting and the Market in Early Modern Antwerp (2016).

1 Humanity and Self-knowledge
2 Mankind in the Cosmos
3 Ambition and Authority
4 Triumph of War: Humanity in a World of Chaos
5 Inside and Out: Natural Languages of Human Nature
6 Laughing Man
Conclusion: Speaking Truth

Photo Acknowledgements