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I’m happy to announce that the first picture study aid for the Ambleside Online 2019-2020 school year is complete! This time around, we’re going back to the Netherlands to explore the imaginative world of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. His Netherlandish Proverbs was one of my favorite paintings in school and gave me a love for the Northern Renaissance. I think many years of treasuring my copies of the various Where’s Waldo? books definitely aided in my appreciation of his work as the little surprises and interesting scenes he sneaks in to nearly every corner of some of his paintings reminded me of those books.
Though various art historians have dissected his paintings ad nauseam (they have plenty of material for dissection!) and given them the full range of meanings, I prefer simpler explanations and take his works for face value. I appreciate the different joys (and goofiness) of childhood in Children’s Games. I love the every-day winter fun depicted in The Hunters in the Snow. I find beauty in the intricateness and detail in The Tower of Babel. And I absolutely adore that blushing little smile on the bride in Peasant Wedding. He infused character in his paintings in so many ways and I wholeheartedly agree with the biographical excerpt by Karl van Mander that I included in the picture study aid:
Indeed, there are very few works from his hand that the beholder can look at seriously, without laughing. However stiff, serious, and morose, one may be, one cannot help laughing, or smiling.
This 34-page picture study aid includes a brief biography about Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s life, key topics about six of his paintings, and six printable versions of the paintings (without artist names or titles) at the end.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder left behind very little information about his life and only his paintings and drawings remain to prove his existence. Fortunately, due to his rising popularity since the beginning of the 20th century, much debate and research has been done on his work that provides a wealth of resources from which to draw good discussion.
A good resource for an overview of all of his works is Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1990) by Wolfgang Stechow which contains beautiful, large, color reproductions of his paintings. This is a reprint from an earlier version published in 1970 that is also good.
For older students, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (2016) from the Inspiring Artists series by Paul Rockett is a good resource, though not necessarily a living book. Also, The Fantastic Journey of Pieter Bruegel (2002) by Anders C. Shafer offers imagined journal entries of his trip to and from Italy in the 1550s. You will want to pre-read as this may have objectionable content (some violence and questionable religious content).
For younger children, The People in the Paintings by Haneul Ddang is wonderful and offers a closer look at the many activities in “Children’s Games”. You may also want to censor this one as there is some content (a woman “binding the devil”) later in the book that may be scary for younger students.
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis or study of each piece, and that is intentional. I tried to keep it all very simple in the spirit of there being, “no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.” (vol 6 pg 216)
For enjoying art with children in general, I also included a page of art sources that I’ve found particularly good:
For younger children, I highly recommend the Mini-Master series by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Also, the Touch The Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo.
For both younger and older children, the Come Look With Me series by Gladys S. Blizzard is excellent.
You may download it below for personal use in your own homeschool (Ambleside Online, another Charlotte Mason curriculum, or otherwise). And as always, if you have any feedback or suggestions, I would love for you to fill out my feedback form!