Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/30-69), The Strife of Lent with Shrove-Tide, c. 1550-60
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of the greatest artists of 16th century Europe.
Renaissance humanism and Netherlandish painting
His works spring equally from the Renaissance humanism of his own era and early Netherlandish painting, particularly the work of Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450-1516). One might say that Bruegel translated Bosch’s religious and nightmarish imagery into a folklorist profane version.
Contrast between the riotous days and the Lent
The Strife of Lent with Shrove-Tide thematises the contrast between the riotous days prior to Ash Wednesday and the next 40 days of Lent concluded by Easter Day. The theme has its roots in Flemish folklore dating all the way back to the 13th century. In his work, Bruegel puts a new spin on the allegory of the two extremes: one that lets the grotesque and anti-clerical take centre stage.
The history of the painting
The painting is first mentioned in an inventory from 1718, listing it as part of a cabinet of curiosities in the Winter Parlour at Rosenborg. Here it was displayed alongside other paintings in a cabinet containing objects both natural and man-made. It was painted using a watercolour-like technique that Bruegel presumably learnt while working in Mechelen in 1550-51.