Pieter Bruegel was perhaps the greatest sixteenth-century Flemish painter and he is certainly the most popular today. Surprisingly, fewer than fifty of his works have survived, though his episodes from peasant life, landscapes and religious paintings are familiar to all. To each of these themes Bruegel brought remarkable gifts of observation, an unfailing sense of line and a dazzling use of colour. The gaiety and heartiness of his scenes of contemporary life are, however, tinged with a wry pessimism; he was a shrewd judge of human nature and his use of Flemish proverbs allowed him to instruct and entertain at the same time. His message is as fresh today as it was four hundred years ago; and his scenes of destruction and terror no less than his paintings of unbridled enjoyment will doubtless be relevant for many generations to come.
The introductory essay by Keith Roberts, has been revised and enlarged with 48 full-page colour plates, notes and black-and-white comparative illustrations by Christopher Brown, who is Chief Curator of the National Gallery, London.