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Video transcript

art so often focuses on the lives of kings of biblical figures of saints and martyrs but what about everyday people what about most of us well that's exactly what we get to see thanks to Bruegel who was known as the peasant painter we're seeing a peasant wedding from the late 16th century there's so much to look at here there are so many people crowded into this barn like space you can see huge walls of hay that are being stored in the background and in front of that a long table with well the wedding party this is a new type of painting this is a genre painting a scene of everyday life and this is the subject that begins to be painted in the 16th century because the Protestant Reformation has happened so the artists traditional patron the church and people buying art for the church has disappeared and so now the artists are looking for different subjects and we have the birth of landscape painting genre we see still life beginning to develop this new array of options of possibilities but of course patronage is still coming from the wealthy this is a culture that was based on trade and manufacturing it would have been those that had made significant amount of money that would have then gone to artisan said paint me a painting about our world so there is something really appealing about a monumental painting of peasants celebrating life enjoying each other's company and celebrating a wedding you use the word monumental a moment ago and that's such a perfect word for this painting royal paints in a style that feels monumental the figures are solid they seem like the salt of the earth everything about this painting has to feeling warm roughness it's important to think about that in relationship to the culture of Antwerp and Brussels where Bruegel work those were big cities that as you said were really wealthy but were burglars showing us here and what his patrons wanted to see was a much simpler life that's do exactly what the artist is inviting us to do let's walk in there's a lot of feasting and drinking a lot of drinking especially we see that figure on the lower left who's pouring out the drink that's being enjoyed my guess is that's beer this is Flanders what is now Belgium and they make great beer and it makes because that's a drink made from grain the very material that is so much a part of the life of these peasants they're growing it they're harvesting it and here they're participating in a wedding on the thrashing floor my eye first goes to that trade that's being carried by those two waiters when they seem to be bringing in some sort of porridge or pudding in these earthenware bowls if you look a little bit past that you can see a man in a red cap who's picking up those bowls and seems to be passing them down the table carelessly because one looks like it's about to the food is about to slip out of the bowl true we might look under his hand and see that there's a knife there's a cutting board is a loaf of bread and then we might go to the right and there we see seated in a high-back chair the notary the legal observer of the wedding to his left we can see a franciscan speaking to a man who's elegantly dressed and really stands out that would probably be the landowner the noble whose land all of these peasants were and the artist is really drawing our attention to the star of the wedding starve any wedding and the bride who forms the top of a pyramid between these two figures in the foreground that you were describing and she sits in front of a green cloth this was the tradition below a crown and also wearing a crown and she sits very modestly and demure early not partaking and eating and drinking all part of the way peasant celebrated weddings in the 16th century scholars have done research and determined that Bruegel is quite accurate in his representation he's trying to get right how these rituals were enacted and so the idea that the bride would stay very passive with her hands folded not eating not speaking under that crown made of paper not jewels definitely not jewels is apparently quite accurate and so it is this glimpse not only for us now in a later era but even for the city patrons and when we think about that kind of anthropologist view maybe sometimes we think about a view that's very distant but I don't feel that with Bruegel I feel a sense of sympathy with these figures a sense of shared humanity and I think that's what makes him a great painter is that we look at the faces and they feel like people we might know or recognize I really love the lower left corner of the painting this little boy whose face is almost completely obscured by his hat although he's been dressed up he's got that wonderful peacock feather in his cap and he's been making sure that he doesn't miss any drop of that pudding and then that figure who pours the beer it's very graceful and his movements beautifully foreshortened rendering of the face this is almost drawing as well as painting all the way the far end of the table there's another lovely little vignette that shows a woman with a small child seated next to her who's happily eating and she seems to be looking up holding her Stein saying would you fill this up for me would you mind getting me something else to drink and there's also the figure who's playing the bagpipes means watching the food come in it's just a really lovely glimpse into life in the 16th century painted with a sense of warmth and generosity we can inhabit this world with them in just a wonderfully intimate way