Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Kinder, Gentler Winter Scene

Dear readers, with December upon us I thought I would turn to a nice, soothing winter scene.  Maybe some partridges, maybe some pear trees, perhaps some people frolicking in the snow.  I fired up Wikimedia and boldly typed in “paintings of winter.”

The first three subcategories it listed were “Paintings of allegories of winter,” “Winter landscape paintings,” and “Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.”

Guess which one I had to bring up?
Massacre of the Innocents – Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565-1567 (Source)
At a glance, this is way tamer than some of the other stuff he painted.  As by far the most interesting result in the winter paintings category search, however, it deserves a look here. 

This cartoonish figure is ready to bust down some doors, which I assume he found by kicking every three feet down the line of the brick wall given that his hat is completely covering his eyes.  Fashion provided by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean costume department, specifically the designer who had a love affair with sliced watermelons.

All of the horses look like they have been put in Time Out, with their heads sullenly against the trees.  I guess the only way to tie up a horse was to staple its ears to a tree trunk?

Here are some guys violently murdering turkeys with pikes.  So it’s like Thanksgiving, only much more pleasant for the turkeys.  The guy killing a pig (?) with his backside toward the viewer has the most awesome leggings ever.  Meanwhile women desperately struggle over jars and weep over nicely wrapped parcels.

This lady seems to be praying over the contents of her larder.

And this poor kid is having a bad day, being dragged from the house in the snow with a dislocated shoulder and no pants.

This is actually the most telling bit about the scene.  It turns out that this isn’t just a raid of a town for dry goods and livestock by men who have an impressive rap sheet with the fashion police.  The massacre of the innocents refers to the Bible story where Herod hears about baby Jesus’ birth, so he orders that all children should be murdered.

Flemish Pieter here decided to tell this story in a context his viewers could understand, so he depicted all of the murderers as Spaniards and Germans.  Because even in the 16th century, when you asked someone “Who would commit the worst atrocity you can imagine?” the first answer that sprang to mind was “Flamboyant Tights-Wearing Hitler.”

What this amounts to is that all of the turkeys and livestock and kitchen goods in the painting were originally dead babies.  At some point its owner decided that perhaps this was not the most appetizing scene to have hanging in the dining room, or bedroom, or anywhere, so he had all the tiny corpses painted over into a more palatable scene of pillaging.

So really, I take back what I said before about this being one of the artist’s tamer paintings.  People could handle his images of lobster monsters, or bird-lizards ripping their own stomachs open to spawn, but a modernized Gospel scene was considered too gruesome.


  1. Could Bruegel have been saying that the animals being butchered were just as innocent than the children (if not more so)? I would like to think an artist could be morally avant garde.

    Is it just the man's leggings you admire? There's no need to be coy!

    1. This would have been a delightfully subversive advertisement for vegetarianism, but apparently you can still see the outlines of the children that have been painted over on the original...I am now tempted to paint a hospital nursery room with an abattoir next door, though.

      Stripey leggings man isn't even the marauder most on display in this painting. The man right below him seems especially excited for some pillaging.

  2. You're very funny -in spite of your jovial seasonal share. Ah Winter!

    Thank God - I've finaly hit upon a site not picturing food and an attached recipe. Drooling and keyboards are counter productive. Not unlike said Pieter - baby overlays - you say? I love Disney! That's unusual with the horses. You're so right about those tights - what a ham!

    Next snippet - I think the lady, bottom left, is putting on new earrings. (Just a thought.)
    And the lady praying over her larder? Was there an explanation of that hip-hump?
    Most disturbing the last photo snippet. In the large painting we see a strange guy in a bunny hat, staring at the child. I'm incline to wonder if Pieter considered using his painting for the Easter season as well?

    I'm feeling wam and fuzzy now - but what of those fighters jets in the background sky? Ah! D-day.

    1. I am very glad that some slaughter and thievery serves as a nice break from holiday food porn. And just because your village is in chaos and your loved ones are being murdered is no reason to not look your best.

      I assume deformed-hip lady has actually strapped an infant under her dress for safety. Like one of those wraps that straps your baby to your front, except more awkward and raising more questions.

      This would be a great Easter painting! The owner could have just painted in some Easter eggs hidden around as well as the baby-masking, and it would be a fun game for the whole family to search for them.

  3. Maybe the people just couldn't handle the baby dick on full display. "While I appreciate the depiction of a Biblical tale, I must say, my monocle simply popped off my face at the sight of that boy's itsy bitsy Roman bait and tackle!" (The Romans loved little boys? No, if you have to explain a joke, it simply isn't great.)
    Also, I wondered the same thing Dixie did, is that woman putting on an earring amidst all the turkey slaughter?

    1. There is a remarkable amount of baby dick in art - I guess there is a chance that in the original version, not all of them were still attached to their original owners.

      That lady may have lost her family and her home, but at least she still has her mother-of-pearl earrings. Those are hard to replace, you know!

  4. You never staple ears to a tree trunk? How odd.

    People aren't violent at all. I feel so relieved.