Children’s games, hunters headed out for their catch, a gregarious peasant wedding: Netherlandish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder is a celebrated master of the small details. And a new web application makes these evocative glimpses into life in the sixteenth century available in a novel way.
InsideBruegel.net provides free access to high-resolution digital images of key Bruegel paintings within the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (KHM) collection. It was produced in conjunction with KHM’s major exhibition Bruegel (on view October 2, 2018–January 13, 2019), the first-ever monographic show dedicated to the artist and a commemoration of the 450th anniversary of his death.
Much like the web tool Closer to Van Eyck, Inside Bruegel stems from the Getty Foundation’s Panel Paintings Initiative, a decade-long effort to train a new generation of panel paintings conservators. Funding that supported training residencies associated with the structural research and technical study of KHM’s Bruegel paintings also provided an opportunity for further investigation and documentation.
The result is a new resource that promises to delight scholars and art lovers alike. Users can zoom into Bruegel’s carefully considered details, and apply imaging filters such as infrared reflectography and X-radiography to see underdrawings, structural modifications, pigments used by the artist, and more.
Take for example Bruegel’s evocative winter study Hunters in the Snow (1565). Macrophotography allows the viewer to see vignettes within the painted scene that are barely one centimeter long. This detail (below) from the far background shows a hopeful hunter firing his gun at scattering birds, elements that are rendered with little more than the flick of the tiniest brush.
Zoom out and apply an X-radiography filter for a new view of the figures in the foreground. The image on the right (below) shows that the hunter nearest to the viewer was a later addition to the composition: the lighter area indicates that the figure was painted on top of a tree trunk, probably to give a greater sense of depth and to lead the eye into the composition.
Users can explore eleve of the Vienna paintings by customizing views. Although the Bruegel exhibition is only open for a short time, InsideBruegel.net will be available long after the landmark show closes, enabling new scholarship and assisting with the continued preservation of these cherished artworks.