The Massacre of the Innocents (1565 – 1566) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Massacre of the Innocents - Pieter Bruegel the Elder - 1565 - 1566

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Artwork Information

TitleThe Massacre of the Innocents
ArtistPieter Bruegel the Elder
Date1565 - 1566
Dimensions109.2 x 158.1 cm
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationUpton House, Upton, UK

About The Massacre of the Innocents

“The Massacre of the Innocents” is a powerful religious painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a master of the Northern Renaissance. Created between 1565 and 1566, this oil on panel artwork measures 109.2 by 158.1 centimeters and currently resides at Upton House in Upton, UK. Bruegel’s piece is known for its intricate details and evocative portrayal of a harrowing biblical event.

The artwork depicts a snowy village scene steeped in tragedy and chaos. Soldiers on horseback and foot forcefully enter the homes of villagers, indication of a powerful authority imposing its will upon the defenseless populace. The narrative stems from the biblical tale of King Herod’s decree for the massacre of all young male children in Bethlehem in an attempt to eliminate the newborn Jesus, as foretold to be the future king.

Bruegel has portrayed the terror and helplessness of the villagers with great effect. The central scenes demonstrate violence and desperation, as mothers plead for mercy or attempt to flee with their children, while soldiers carry out their grim orders with a tone of detachment or even cruelty. The brutality of the event contrasts sharply with the idyllic winter landscape, which Bruegel intricately renders with a multitude of figures and domestic details, providing a rich tapestry of village life set against the backdrop of horror.

Though it draws on a specific religious narrative, Bruegel’s artwork can also be understood in the context of his time, possibly reflecting the political and religious turmoil of the 16th-century Low Countries under Spanish rule. The emotional depth and the social commentary Bruegel embeds within this piece hold a significant place in the canon of European art and continue to move viewers with its stark depiction of innocence under siege.

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