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Raphael and Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Italian Renaissance vs. Northern Renaissance

Updated on July 9, 2012
Raphael: Self-portrait
Raphael: Self-portrait | Source


Two painters I would like to compare are Raphael and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Raphael was an Italian Renaissance painter who lived from 1483 to 1520. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a painter from the Northern Renaissance who lived from 1527 to 1569. The differences in their work can be easily attributed to the influences that existed where and when they lived.

Focus of Paintings/Materials Used

The focus of their paintings and the style they used are the two more prominent differences. Breugel the Elder had many works that reflected nature, peasants, and other parts of daily life. This was fairly standard in the Northern Renaissance, as they didn’t seem to be as concerned as the Italian Renaissance painters were with who would pay them for their works. Bruegel did also paint religious and moral allegories, fantastical scenes, and grim scenes. He covered a wide range of themes, and covered them well. Raphael was slightly more limited in what he painted. He mostly painted religious scenes, but he painted other works as well, as long as he had a target audience ready to pay him.

Both painters used oil on wood for many of their paintings, but only Raphael also painted frescos, a style that didn’t extend to the Breugel and the Northern Renaissance. Raphael also used linear perspective, something that was copied, although not quite as well, by painters of the Northern Renaissance.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Pieter Bruegel the Elder | Source

Differences in Concepts

Raphael’s “School of Athens” and Breugel’s “Hunters in the Snow” are both very active pictures, but they are based on completely different concepts. “School of Athens” is a philosophical work, and contains a very visible debate to those who know what to look for, which included Raphael’s target audience. On one side Apollo, the patron saint of poetry, stands with Plato. Opposing them are Athena, the goddess of reason, standing with Aristotle. Raphael was obviously drawing the lines of a basic debate, placing beauty and art against reason. Breugel’s “Hunters in the Snow” doesn’t seem to have quite the same level of symbolism, and in fact was supposed to be part of a series about the seasons. While the action in it is no less important than Raphael, Breugel is showing us hunters returning, apparently empty-handed, to a village down below. The village is out enjoying the frozen lakes, and the dichotomy of the scene is powerful – the hunters look cold and tired, and the dogs are lean, but the people in the village are happy. It’s a slice of life of the common people, showing how they spent their time. There is no great debate evident in it, and no hidden message that can be easily found, if there is one at all.


One thing that all artists seem to have in common from this time period, however, is vanity. Breugel and Raphael are no different. While Raphael added himself to the “School of Athens,” Breugel added himself to “Wedding Feast.” In both cases, the artist couldn’t resist being part of the world he was creating.


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      Katrine Levin 

      4 years ago

      Hi Katherine, I am doing a paper on Pieter Brueghel the Elder's self-portrait. You wrote that Breugel added himself to the “Wedding Feast” - could you tell me where, in the Wedding Feast, he appears? Thank you!


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