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Pieter Bruegel and the Art of Laughter

Walter S. Gibson (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 287 pages
ISBN: 9780520245211
February 2006
$85.00, £71.00
Pieter Bruegel (ca. 1525–1569), generally considered the greatest Flemish painter of the sixteenth century, was described in 1604 by his earliest biographer as a supremely comic artist, few of whose works failed to elicit laughter. Today, however, we approach Bruegel’s art as anything but a laughing matter. His paintings and drawings are thought to conceal profound allegories best illuminated with scholarly erudition. In this delightfully engaging book, Walter S. Gibson takes a new look at Bruegel, arguing that the artist was no erudite philosopher, but a man very much in the world, and that a significant part of his art is best appreciated in the context of humor. In his illuminating examination of the witty and amusing elements in Bruegel’s paintings, prints, and drawings in relation to the sixteenth century European culture of laughter, Gibson reminds us exactly why Bruegel was one of the most original artists of his time.

In a series of engrossing chapters, Gibson explores the function and production of laughter in the sixteenth century, examines the ways in which Bruegel exploited the comic potential of Hieronymus Bosch, and traces how the artist developed his remarkable gift for physiognomy in his work, culminating in three paintings of festive peasants he produced during the 1560s: the Wedding Dance, the Kermis, and the Wedding Banquet. Gibson also takes a detailed look at the Dulle Griet, Bruegel’s most complex evocation of Bosch.
List of Illustrations

Deciphering Bruegel

chapter 1
The Commodity of Laughter in the Sixteenth Century

chapter 2
Bruegel’s Art of Laughter

chapter 3
A Bankrupt and His Bruegels

chapter 4
Rustic Revels

chapter 5
Making Good Cheer

chapter 6
The Devil’s Nemesis: Griet and Her Sisters

Taking Laughter Seriously

Select Bibliography
Walter S. Gibson is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at Case Western Reserve University and the author of several books, including Pleasant Places: The Rustic Landscape from Bruegel to Ruisdael (California, 2000) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Two Studies (1991).
“A convincing account . . . [and] new, subtle readings.”—Art Newspaper
“Excellent reassessment of the artist’s life and work. Very readable.”—Raymond J. Steiner Art Times / Css Publications
"In Pieter Bruegel and the Art of Laughter Walter Gibson makes it abundantly clear that laughter is a key feature in many of Bruegel's works. He examines witty and humorous elements in Bruegel's paintings, prints, and drawings and creates a context for understanding them as part of sixteenth-century culture. The material Gibson brings to bear on Bruegel will be new to many. This book will appeal to art historians and anyone interested in sixteenth-century thought and culture."—John Oliver Hand, Curator of Northern Renaissance Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

"This book offers a much needed, and long overdue alternative to the primarily moralizing approach to Northern Renaissance and Baroque art and the works of Pieter Bruegel. Walter Gibson goes way beyond what art history has offered to date, giving a new, more balanced reading of Bruegel's art."—Alison Stewart, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

"In Pieter Bruegel and the Art of Laughter Walter Gibson offers a marvelously engaging antidote to the hermetic readings that have plagued the interpretation of Bruegel's works for far too long. The book provides an abundance of evidence for the importance of laughter in the responses these works were intended to provoke, illuminating not only the paintings and prints of this much misunderstood artist, but also the role of laughter in sixteenth-century culture as a whole."—David Freedberg, Professor of Art History at Columbia University

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