Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Magi by Pieter Breughel the younger

Paintings by the Breughels are interesting in relation to depictions of the Magi, being rather different to Italian versions, and this newly-located work by PB younger is additionally intriguing because of the way the Holy Family are pictorially marginalised and the majority of the space is allocated to Northern peasants going about their daily business on a very snowy January day - notwithstanding the presence in their midst of two richly-laden beasts that look like mules crossed with camels, at the end of a train headed by three kings well-wrapped against the cold.    
The first two kings are already kneeling to the  almost invisible Christ Child while Balthazar, wearing a thick fur coat, strides forward bearing his gift, which looks more like pearls than myrrh.  His attendant, in heavy woollen cape and hat follows.  These two are distinctly dark-skinned, so we know the artist is conveying the message about the Wise Men representing Europe, Asia and Africa.  

But as with most of the other figures,  their features are not distinctly personalised.  None of the peasants are paying them much attention, as if Africans were everyday visitors to a Flemish village in mid-winter.   Perhaps the two guys in scarlet hose carrying halberds are some kind of official guard or escort?  There are more soldiers to the right, one of whom is heading purposefully towards cooking pots on a fire in a peasant's hut
The veiled figure in dark hat and cape walking in the procession is rather mysterious - any clues as to his identity or occupation?

Auction estimate either side of half a million euros.  Details and great close-ups  here

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