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.