Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België — Musée Oldmasters Museum: Pieter Bruegel de Oude: De Aanbiddung der Wijze

On Sunday, I went to the Musée Oldmasters Museum in the Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België / Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels. I’m still getting through making sense of a couple of hundred images of works from mediæval to fin de siècle, but there were two works I kinda think would get buried amongst the almost eighty or so from the Oldmasters Museum and I’d spent so much time looking at them that they need their own post.

Peter Paul Rubens’ Vier Studies van het Hoofd van een Moor from 1640 is the first one. The other: Pieter Bruegel de Oude’s unfinished De Aanbiddung der Wijzen.

I do love Bruegel (with or without the ‘h’), there’s something almost like an animation cell quality in his work, and always a gentle humour. The expressions on the endless sea of faces, the bodies, clothes, accompanying animals, it’s like photography also, everyone caught mid-sentence, sneeze, laugh, cough…

I couldn’t find a date for this one, so presuming it’s mid-1500s. There’s a few other Aanbiddung der Wijzen by the Brueg(h)els, another of which is also in this museum. This one by comparison to the other works I think is unfinished. Usually the paint is laid on thicker and the colour more vibrant; here it’s muted, like a sepia watercolour, the weave of the canvas clearly visible. As usual in this museum, it’s behind glass, opposite a window. I think the museum wants to punish the artist for being too delicate. But anyway, I managed to get some of it. In real life it’s more muted and sepia, but it’s difficult to remember exactly, and yup, image editing, always make-believe.

Elephants! Camels! Donkeys! Goats! People from Africa, Persia, many Semites and some Europeans in armour.The Magi in the foreground in the white, striped and hooded cloak, the guy behind him in the red embroidered cloak and pointed turban … there’s not very many, but women also. I’ve seen so very many paintings, retables, sculptures, altarpieces of the Adoration of the Magi, and this is the most convincing of all. Besides the Magi, all of whom are not exceptionally richly dressed, the remaining people are peasants, farmers, soldiers, religious pilgrims, mostly pretty averagely dressed; the whole setting is believably middle-eastern village two-thousand years ago—at least by comparison to the usual representations.

It’s the elephant up the back in profile that pleases me the most. I love this painting.