Pieter Bruegel (1525-69): The Tower of Babel, 1563

Pieter Bruegel (1525-69): The Tower of Babel, 1563

2/3/2021, 2:23:03 PM
Pieter Bruegel (1525-69): The Tower of Babel, 1563, oil on panel, 114 x 155 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria This painting by Pieter Bruegel was the second of three versions of the biblical Tower of Babel. The subject is based on Bible, Genesis 11: 1-9, in which God confounds the people who began to build "a tower whose top may reach unto Heaven", it also includes the scene of King Nimrod and his retinue appearing before the genuflecting crowd of workmen. Bruegel has placed the Tower in a coastal landscape, near a river, perhaps reflecting the fact that waterways, rather than unpaved country roads, carried most of the heavy goods during the 16th century. The subject and its site was also intended to mirror the situation in Antwerp, where rapid building growth had caused widespread problems. The painting thus served as an allegorical warning for the city's authorities. 'The Tower of Babel' features a host of meticulous details, relating to the construction of the building - enhanced, no doubt, by Bruegel's intricate knowledge of building techniques, acquired during his execution of several paintings illustrating the digging of the Antwerp-Brussels canal. The ant-like labourers are busy loading it with huge stone slabs which they have received from below and will pass onto the the higher ramp where others are prepared to receive them. While Bruegel took enormous pleasure in rendering every detail with an almost scientific exactness, he was also intensely curious about the subject of movement. Whatever the reason of these individual actions may be - and this point has not yet been fully investigated - one immediately senses the grotesque inadequacy of means as well as the folly of the entire enterprise. However industrious these 'ants' may be, they are up against hopeless odds which are brilliantly demonstrated. Within the same level completion of the last detail stands against bare beginnings, with intermediary stages in between, thus intimating a frantic race against merciless time, while the upper part is still invaded by clouds.

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