At a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I was deeply drawn into a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called The Harvesters, an oil on wood painting completed in 1565. The Harvesters is one in a series of six works, done by Bruegel, that depict 16th century peasant life at different times during the year.
I am not completely sure what it is about this painting that so captures my attention. Perhaps it is some romantic, and certainly incorrect, idea of the simplicity of life in medieval agricultural society. Just look at the peasants, depicted both doing the work of harvesting and also enjoying the results of their labor by eating and relaxing. I can almost feel the atmosphere, tired after a long day in the warm sun, yet content and fulfilled. Even the sight of villagers participating in cock throwing (see the center left), something I would abhor today, seems somewhat natural adding a further sense of realism to this view of life from nearly 500 years ago. This painting is a window to the past, a vivid look at a slice of cultural and physical village life as it existed in a time very distant in time and manner from our own.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) was a Flemish renaissance painter best known for his paintings of peasants and and landscapes. He was the father of Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder, both famous and accomplished artists themselves. Around 45 paintings from Bruegel the Elder survive. If you find yourself at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, go see this in person. Doing so is well worth the time, and you will find the painting grabs your imagination, sending it to a time and place that still remains deep within our souls.