The Massacre of the Innocents
by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525?-1569)
Oil on canvas, 43 3/4 x 63 inches, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- Entire picture
[305KB, 1146 x 814 pixels, 16.7m color JPEG]
- Detail 1 (center)
[198KB, 637 x 824 pixels, 16.7m color JPEG]
Detail 2 (left lower)
[39KB, 306 x 532 pixel, 16.7m color JPEG]
[Back to 'The Massacre of the Innocents,' by Maurice Maeterlinck]
Matthew 2:16-18: "When Herod saw how the astologers [three Wise Men] had tricked him [by not reporting back to him the child's location] he fell into a passion, and gave orders for the massacre of all children in Bethlehem and its neighborhood, of the age of two years and younger, which was the time he had been given by the astrologers [for the birth of the child who was to become king of the Jews.] So the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled: 'A voice was heard in Rama, wailing and loudly lamenting; it was Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing all consolation, because they were no more.'"
- See http://www.mala.bc.ca/~mcneil/bruegel.htm for more Bruegel links.
- One version of this painting by Bruegel was retouched in the 17th Century to hide the faces of the babies who were being killed.
- Some art critics think the bearded man in the picture and in Maeterlinck's story represents the Duke of Alba, who was ordered by Philip II of Spain to occupy the low countries including Flanders and Brabant, and repress heresy such as Calvinism and Anabaptism.
- Other critics believe that the picture was probably painted before the Duke began his bloody campaign.
- The Walloon (French-speaking) troops on the side of the Spaniards wore red cloaks.
- There is no proof Bruegel favored the side of the Protestants and William of Orange, or the Catholics and Cardinal Granvelle; he seemed to get along with both. Perhaps, like Erasmus and his friend the cartographer Abraham Ortelius, he disapproved of all violence and war.
- Bruegel at first spelled his name "Brueghel," which was also the way his sons Pieter the Younger and Jan spelled it. You will also see it spelled as "Breughel".
- A kermis or kermisse is a name-day celebration (patron saint birthday party, usually for whole village, when it became a country fair).