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Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Misanthrope

by Sylvi Weidlich

We look at an old man who holds his hands folded, the corners of his mouth turned deeply downward with grief and his hood pulled far over his eyes. His heavy, deep dark coat, in which all his sadness and disappointment about the injustices of the world seem to be stuck, hangs heavily on him. If he had no shoes on, he would painfully injure himself on thorns that pave his way.

Om dat de werelt is soe ongetru / Daer om gha ic in den ru

"Because the world is so faithless, I bear grief," reveals the inscription at the bottom of the painting. And while this one, bent with grief, slowly strides out of the picture, a circular tondo, he is also robbed. Nobody less than the world itself reaches into his pockets. Barefoot, with an alert look and torn pants at the knees, the allegory relieves the gloomy man of his money bag, which has the color and shape of a - his? - heart.

While centrally we see the "man-hater" who has just been robbed, in the rear part of the picture we look at a typical Dutch scene: his flock supplemented by some worldly black sheep, a farmer leans contentedly on his shepherd's crook, while around him his cattle graze in peace. The obligatory windmill is not missing either.

Interesting in this context is the choice of the round picture format, reminiscent of Michelangelo Buonarroti's Tondo Doni and the depiction of the Holy Family. In Michelangelo's work, the figures in the background point to the transience of life. Brueghel's choice of the circular format focuses on his main plot of a man-hater who wants to continue on his path riddled with thorns. At first glance. At second and distracting from the obvious, the earth in the background nevertheless continues to turn unperturbed - with all its beauty, naturalness and contentment.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Misanthrope

Tempera on canvas, 1568, 86 x 85 cm, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples


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