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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The last great medieval painter ..."
This is a review of the third edition of 1982; the first appeared in 1971. It forms part of the well-respected Phaidon Colour Library series of famous artists and their works.

This A4-sized colour book contains 51 plates from Bruegel's works. The book opens with an eighteen-page introduction by Keith Roberts, who points out that it would have been impossible to...
Published on 6 July 2008 by Nicholas Casley

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2.0 out of 5 stars Check for irremovable sticker
This may depend on exactly who you buy this book from, but my copy came with a large sticker on the front saying what a bargain the book was! Most importantly, the sticker is almost impossible to remove, and glue underneath completely so. Certainly not suitable as a present. Best to check first.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The last great medieval painter ...", 6 July 2008
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
This is a review of the third edition of 1982; the first appeared in 1971. It forms part of the well-respected Phaidon Colour Library series of famous artists and their works.

This A4-sized colour book contains 51 plates from Bruegel's works. The book opens with an eighteen-page introduction by Keith Roberts, who points out that it would have been impossible to buy a book on Pieter Bruegel in Victorian times, for none existed. How times and tastes have changed, for there is now a greater tolerance of his subjects, less prudishness, and his works lend themselves well to photographic reproduction.

Roberts points out that less than fifty of his attributable works survive, and if you are wondering how there can be 51 plates of his works in this book, the answer is that some of the plates are details from the larger picture. Of these fifty, five are in the UK, five in Germany, three in the US - but fourteen are in Vienna. (These figures may have changed since 1982. I recently was confronted with one at the Musee Calvet in Avignon, but I was uncertain whether it was a genuine or whether it was attributed to his workshop. It would have been useful for the author to have listed all the works with the places where they can be seen.)

Roberts equates the quality of Bruegel's work with that of Jan van Eyck (and the later Rubens): "His whole way of seeing things belongs to the dying Middle Ages ... Bruegel can be regarded as the last great medieval painter." He did not idealise his figures in any way - even members of the Holy family are portrayed as ordinary additions to the landscape - but Roberts is certain that parody was not Bruegel's intention. There has been a school of thought that portrays Bruegel's paintings as a subtle comment on the times, as being anti-war, anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic: no church, after all, would sanction a Bruegel as a suitable painting for an altarpiece, but Roberts is not convinced: "There is no evidence to suggest that Bruegel was anything but an orthodox Roman Catholic."

But the political context of the religious wars going on all around Bruegel in the Habsburg Netherlands cannot be ignored, as the country was ripped apart by political and religious turmoil. Roberts appears to want things both ways, writing about Bruegel's `The Massacre of the Innocents', that it "was probably not painted with a direct political implication in mind, but there can still be little doubt that for Bruegel's contemporaries the image would have had emotive overtones."

Despite an early visit across the Alps to Italy, what I find intriguing is Bruegel's almost wholehearted repudiation of the Renaissance form as epitomised by Raphael. Unfortunately, Bruegel left no records to judge his character or intentions. Roberts writes that, "The question of form and content ... the extent to which he was expressing his own feelings, and the degree to which he was exploring the obvious implications of the commission is very complex and does not lend itself to any easy clear-cut explanation." But Robert's also detects a pessimistic outlook, a poor view of humanity: "The frailty of the human species is at all times contrasted with nature, which follows its seasonal course sublimely indifferent to man's puny activities." One must wonder, though, whether the curl of the artist's mouth as he stepped back from the completion of his work, say of `Children's Games' or `The misanthrope', was one of a smiling or of a frowning disposition.

What is true is that "Bruegel's work is steeped in populist imagery", and was judged in its own time by the "diversity of incident and accuracy of detail". The "richness of incident" is an "abiding source of pleasure". The paintings "would not be so moving ... if they were not so well-observed." Roberts concludes his introduction by listing the four most important elements in Bruegel's art: (i) his inventive imagination; (ii) his underlying realism; (iii) the accurate recording of traits; and (iv) his deep pessimism about human nature. These all account for the power of his paintings, but what saves him "from the twin pitfalls of triviality and mere literary illustration" is his aesthetic awareness.

The introduction ends with an outline biography and a select bibliography. The remainder of the book consists of the plates. They include all five of the surviving `months' series. To me, this series seems to feature the same landscape but from different angles, or different valleys within the same terrain, so closely allied are the hills and mountains, churches and homes.

Some of the quality of the photographic reproductions is so good as to allow you to see individual brush strokes, for example in the details of `The Return of the Herd'. One would not want to be too critical about the quality of the photography, but there are problems with lighting. The emaciated horse ridden by the skeleton to the left of the Bosch-like `The Triumph of Death' shines in the full plate, but is dour in the detail. And the detail of the waffle-eating man in `The Gloomy Day' is excessively reddened compared to the full landscape. But the use of details does at least enable the viewer to look afresh at the painting as a whole. `The Hunters in the Snow' for example is unbalanced in form, but the details of the branches of the trees and the skaters on the pond delight.

This is a book to be recommended, then, for all sorts of reasons. Not only does it contain the bulk of Bruegel's attributable output from `Landscape with the Fall of Icarus' (c.1555, his only classical subject) to the Turner-esque `Storm at Sea' (c.1569). But the accompanying text and notes provide a feast of facts and interpretation to stimulate the mind and to explore further.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great value and a delight to read, 8 April 2013
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
This is an excellent book, with large, high quality colour plates, an informative and very readable introduction, and good notes on each plate. I recommend reading the introduction and referring to the numbered plates as you go.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent intro, 2 July 2013
By 
Ian A. Powell - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
Cheap, comprehensive prints, nice essay. The series of books is an excellent intro to any artist and serves as a springboard to a further obsession and higher cost works.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Really good book!, 10 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
Exactly what I had expected. A good overview of the work of this painter. One could almost feel the cold and bitter weather in the winter paintings. The ordinary people's lives were so very hard most of the time, the painters observations at the celebrations of the wedding, and the children's games, shows the exuberance of the people when the opportunity to "party" came around.
Great, I really enjoyed the book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Check for irremovable sticker, 12 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
This may depend on exactly who you buy this book from, but my copy came with a large sticker on the front saying what a bargain the book was! Most importantly, the sticker is almost impossible to remove, and glue underneath completely so. Certainly not suitable as a present. Best to check first.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended, 19 Feb. 2014
By 
M. Heason (Suffolk, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
Books on the paintings of Bruegel are limited and generally expensive. This gives a wide selection of his work at a reasonable price.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
Excellent
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 4 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) (Paperback)
Good.
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Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library)
Bruegel (Phaidon Colour Library) by Keith Roberts (Paperback - 12 Aug. 1998)
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