Although no drawing or painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder of this subject has survived, the design of the Peasants' brawl was in all probability his invention. The composition was certainly well-known in his son's lifetime through an engraving by Lucas Vorsterman (fig. 1) of around 1620, which is inscribed 'PIETER BRUEGEL INVENIT' and dedicated to his brother Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625), who very probably owned the original. The larger figures and distinctive facial types are, as Ertz observes, typical of the later works of the elder Bruegel, such as the The peasant and nest robber of 1568 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The principal group of fighting figures was also copied by Rubens in a drawing today in the Museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam,2 (fig. 2), and again in a painting that is listed in his own inventory and described as a copy after 'old Bruegel'.3 That painting is probably now lost; a picture formerly in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden but now destroyed has been advanced as the possible original, and another version formerly in the Tuchler collection was exhibited as the work of Jan Brueghel the Elder with retouchings by Rubens, but this is now considered by Ertz to be the work of Jan Brueghel the Younger.4
This panel is by far the largest of the known versions of this composition to have survived. In his catalogue of the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger Klaus Ertz lists only ten autograph versions of the design, with dated examples ranging from 1610 to 1622, and the largest three only 75 by 100 cm. Four of these are now in Museums; the Musée Fabre, Montpelier, the Národní Galerie in Prague, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson collection. This panel is likely to be the latest in date of the known versions. Recent dendrochronological analysis has indicated a likely felling date of circa 1617 and thus a probable use for the panel in the later 1620s. The relationship between the various versions is quite complex, and much argument remains as to what extent Pieter Brueghel the Younger may have worked with his brother or his nephew.5 The landscape backgrounds in the known versions vary a good deal, but that in the present work follows most closely that in the ex-Tuchler version and given the dating of the panel may well be the work of Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601–78).
The attribution to Pieter Brueghel the Younger has been confirmed by Dr. Klaus Ertz on the basis of photographs. Dr. Ertz also confirms that in his opinion the village landscape in the background is the work of Jan Brueghel the Younger.
1. G. Hulin de Loo, Peter Bruegel l'Ancien: Son oeuvre et son temps, Brussels 1907, cited by G. Marlier, Piere Brueghel le jeune, Brussels 1969, p. 265.
2. Inv. V8. Black chalk and wash. A.W.M. F. Meij and M. de Haan, Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck and their circle: Flemish Master Drawings from the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, exh. cat. Rotterdam 2001, pp. 113–14, reproduced in colour.
3. Rubens' inventory of 1640 lists under no. 143: 'A peice of Boores fightinge made after a draught of old Bruegel'. See the Appendix to the exhibition catalogue, A House of Art. Rubens as Collector, Rubenshuis, Antwerp 2004, p. 330. The painting was later acquired by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, and was still part of his widow's estate in 1654.
4. Panel, 97 by 126 cm. Exhibited Antwerp, De Bruegel à Rubens: l'école de peinture anversoise 1550–1650, 1992, no. 73. See also K. Ertz in the catalogue of the exhibition Pieter Brueghel le jeune – Jan Brueghel l'ancien. Une famille de peintres flamands vers 1600, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museen voor Schone Kunsten, 1998, p. 396, under no. 143.
5. For a good discussion of the group see K. Belkin, 'Copies and adaptations from Renaissance and later artists: German and Netherlandish artists', in Corpus Rubeniuanum Ludwig Burchard, no. XXVI vol. I, pp. 189–97, nos. 89–92, vol. 2, plates 255–61.
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