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Bruegel’s “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” Painting Essay

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Updated: Feb 8th, 2022

The Fall of the Rebel Angels is a 1562 oil-on-panel painting by one of the most prominent Netherlandish Renaissance artists Pieter Bruegel. Currently, the painting is held at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium Brussels; it is a part of the permanent collection. The Fall of the Rebel Angels depicts an excerpt from the Book of Revelation, “The War in Heaven.” This part of the Book of Revelation describes a celestial war between an army of angels led by the Archangel Michael against fallen angels led by “the dragon” which most likely signifies the devil or Satan. According to the Book of Revelation, Satan is ultimately defeated and thrown onto the ground. Pieter Bruegel depicts this Biblical event through a complex mixture of people, animals, shapes, and patterns. Monsters emerge from a halo of light above, and they are immediately captured and combated by angels.

“The War in Heaven” served as an artistic inspiration throughout the entirety of the Middle Ages. What is interesting about Bruegel’s rendering is his manner of expressing the battle. He does not seek to convey violence or bitterness in his work. Instead, the Netherlandish artist shows the intensity, endlessness, and indefiniteness of the fall. The intricate unity of action leaves a lasting impact on the viewer. As for the artistic influences, Bosch and Bruegel are often studied together, even though their styles differ significantly (Koerner, 2016). The Fall of the Rebel Angels stands out among Bruegel’s paintings that typically show unedited, unflattering everyday life. This painting is essentially Bruegel’s homage to the old-fashioned tradition of Hieronymus Bosch’s grotesque world.

Pieter Bruegel is a Netherlandish painter who is mainly known for his monumental landscape paintings and daily scenes depicted with extreme realism and a pinch of humor. The Yawning Man, held at the Royal Museum of Arts in Belgium as part of its permanent exhibition, is an unusual piece. From the very beginning of his artistic career, Bruegel showed himself as an innovator. He was a major influence on the formation of the Dutch Golden Age of painting not only due to his mastery but also his unconventional choice of subject matters. Pieter Bruegel did not paint portraits – one of the mainstays of Netherlandish Renaissance art back in a day. The question arises as to where the Yawning Man fits within the painter’s repertoire.

To understand the meaning and motivation behind drawing the Yawning Man, one needs to delve into the history and development of the Renaissance movement in Europe. In all European countries, the rise of the Renaissance was caused by the decline of feudalism and a decrease in the power held by the Roman-Catholic church (Porras, 2018). Yet, artistically, different regions possessed unique characteristics. If Italian Renaissance painters preferred formalized portraits and idealized beauty, Northern artists fancied realism. In the Yawning Man, the character is depicted with an unflattering and even indecent facial expression. No noble or urban middle-class person would like to go down in history with such a portrait (Porras, 2018). Apparently, Bruegel drew a peasant; his goal was to both study facial extremities and introduce a new, previously unrecognized subject matter.

References

Koerner, J. L. (2016). Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life-Bollingen Series XXXV: 57. Princeton University Press.

Porras, S. (2018). Pieter Bruegel’s historical imagination. Penn State Press.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Bruegel's "The Fall of the Rebel Angels" Painting." February 8, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/bruegels-the-fall-of-the-rebel-angels-painting/.

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