Pieter Bruegel the Elder is one of the most interesting Flemish painters. Born in today’s the Netherlands, he spent most of his life in Belgium. There are still many places linked to his life and museums with his paintings in Brussels and Antwerp. To help you find them, here is a little guide on where to see the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Belgium.
Where to see the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Belgium
At the beginning of November 2019, I’ve spent two days in Brussels and Antwerp exploring the life and work of this fascinating artist. I thought I knew quite a lot about him before my trip, but I was proved entirely wrong.
Today he’s famous for his detailed paintings with peasants and monsters as the main protagonists. Angels becoming demons, fish with a belly full of smaller fish, spiders playing the instruments and all the different kinds of monsters painted in the most creative way… All of them could be seen on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings and drawings.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Although quite a famous painter today, we know very little about the life of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. We don’t know when and where he was born exactly. It was probably somewhere around Breda in today’s the Netherlands, between 1525 and 1530. After his training as an artist, he took a trip to Italy to learn more about art by drawing the old Roman ruins.
In 1555 he was back in Antwerp, one of the European centres for printing of that time. He started to earn his living by designing prints for the leading publisher in Belgium – Hieronymus Cock.
Later on, Pieter Bruegel began to paint and become one of the pioneers of the genre painting by mainly focusing on peasants, landscapes and biblical scenes. Often, he would include all of them in the same picture.
Although Antwerp was the economic centre of the time, Brussels was where the government seat was. So, to receive more high commissions, in 1563, he moved there. This is the year when Bruegel got married as well. In the following years, he became a father of two sons and a daughter. Although we know nothing about a girl, his sons became famous painters, too – Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Unfortunately, he didn’t give them any training because he died early, in 1569, when he was around forty years old.
Bruegel’s paintings in Belgium
Around forty of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings are preserved in museums around the world today. The majority of them, twelve to be precise, are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. However, a lovely collection is still in the cities where they were created – in Brussels and Antwerp. They are located in a few museums, and here is the list of the locations where can you see the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Belgium.
To be able to walk a bit into Bruegel’s footsteps in Belgium, I also included some locations linked to him.
Locations of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings in Brussels
Address: Zuidlaan 150, 1060 Sint-Gillis
Online tickets: on a link here
A visit to these old medieval city gates was probably the best way to start my trip and immerse into the time of Bruegel. While he was living in Brussels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder lived rather close to them. So, whenever he would go on one of his painting trips outside the city, he would pass through these gates.
The Hallepoort is also a great place to get an idea of how Brussels looked like in the time of Pieter Bruegel. You can climb to its roof and enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of Brussels from the top of the Hallepoort. However, with the help of virtual reality glasses there, you can see Brussels as it looked like back in the 16th century when Bruegel lived in it, too.
Plein Publiek. Located in a beautiful venue, they had a menu inspired by some of Pieter Bruegel’s paintings during my visit. I had mussels in the beer souse, which were delicious. However, they also host a different kinds of exhibitions dedicated to the Flemish masters (often including Pieter Bruegel, too). Take a look at their website to see what’s on during your visit.TIP: To get yourself entirely into that Bruegel mood, have lunch at the
Royal Library of Belgium
Address: Kunstberg 28, 1000 Brussels
Online tickets: on a link here
Libraries may not be the first place to visit when exploring the new town, but, trust me, this one is a true gem.
I was so impressed by its interior, historical rooms, beautiful wallpapers in them, and classical decor. The Royal Library of Belgium has a long history going all the way back to the 15th century. It started as a collection of books, manuscripts and prints of the Dukes of Burgundy.
The Royal Library of Belgium is also home to around ninety prints made by Bruegel. It is a part of his work that’s maybe not that well known. However, here, you can learn about the printmaking in Brussels, one of the most important Belgian publishers during the 16th century – Hieronymus Cock, and his connection to Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Address: Regentschapsstraat 3, 1000 Brussels
Online tickets: on a link here
The second-largest collection of Bruegel’s work in the world is located in Brussels. Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium is where you can find some of the best paintings of Pieter Bruegel in Belgium. Bruegel’s famous winter scenes are located there, together with some work made by his sons.
However, one of his most famous paintings, ‘The Fall of Rebel Angels’ is located there, too.
You’ll also find a few touch screens at a museum. Through virtual reality, the museum is trying to showcase all the details from Bruegel’s work. And let visitors immerse into the paintings and found themselves surrounded by Bruegel’s characters. You can see how that looks like on a link here.
Notre-Dame de la Chapelle Church
The Chapel Church is where Bruegel got married to his wife Mayken Coecke in 1563 when he moved to Brussels. However, it’s also a place where he was buried in 1569. You can still see the funeral monument erected in his honour there.
There is a lovely statue of Bruegel next to the church, showing him working on one of his paintings.
TIP: A lovely traditional Brussels’ restaurant Les Brigittines is located just opposite the church. During my visit, they had a special menu dedicated to Pieter Bruegel. I can highly recommend it for dinner.
Locations of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings in Antwerp
After a good night sleep and an excellent breakfast in a hotel, it was time to catch a train and get to Antwerp. I stayed at the Hilton Brussels Grand Place Hotel, conveniently located just across the Brussels Central train station. So a perfect location for my search for the sites linked to Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Belgium.
After a one-hour long train ride, I arrived at one of my favourite Belgian cities – Antwerp.
Pieter Bruegel started his painting career in Antwerp. From the historical documents, we know he entered the Antwerp painters guild in 1551. He was probably an apprentice at the Pieter Coecke van Aelst workshop before that. He learned about the manuscript illumination from his wife, Mayken Verhulst. Bruegel must have been close to his master’s family because eventually, he got married to their daughter Mayken Coecke.
Museum Mayer van Den Bergh
Address: Lange Gasthuisstraat 19, 2000 Antwerpen
Online tickets: on a link here
Antwerp is home to many fantastic museums, but the two I visited during my Bruegel trip are real secret gems. Museum Mayer van Den Bergh is home to a few paintings made by Pieter Bruegel in Belgium. But, also the work of his son.
However, when I entered it, I was first overwhelmed by the cosy appearance the museum has. It contains a collection of artworks gained by the 19th-century art collector Fritz Mayer van den Bergh. Although created as a museum, with its leather wall coverings, classic furniture and beautiful decoration, it feels more like someone’s home.
This museum is home to one of his most famous paintings, ‘The Dulle Griet’ (Mad Mag). Besides it, twelve wooden plates showing different popular proverbs, painted by Bruegel, are also displayed.
After a delicious lunch at a lovely Local Store Restaurant (all the food they serve is locally produced), I continued to the next location linked to Pieter Bruegel in Antwerp.
Snijders & Rockoxhuis
Address: Keizerstraat 12, 2000 Antwerpen
The museum is located in the homes of two quite important men from the 17th century Antwerp. Nicolaas Rockox and Frans Snijders were a politician and a painter living door-to-door for twenty years in Antwerp. Their homes were carefully restored and turned into a museum.
The museum doesn’t have any original Pieter Bruegel’s work. But, it is home to a copy of his ‘Proverbs’. The original was painted in Antwerp in 1559, while the copy was made by his son, Pieter Breughel the Younger, in 1595.
TIP: The museum is also paying tribute to Mayken Verhulst. She was the mother of Pieter the Elder’s wife, Mayken. However, she was also one of the best artists of her time, a talented watercolourist and a natural teacher to her grandsons. Alexandra Cool created a statue of her that could be seen in a museum. She has mixed flower seeds with clay, so the flowers are left behind when the unbaked clay’s slowly eroding.
Belgium is proud of its artistic heritage and especially of its Flemish masters. Pieter Bruegel the Elder is absolutely one of the most interesting of them. So, if you happen to be in a neighbourhood, be sure to check some of these locations hosting the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Belgium.
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