Thomas P. Campbell (Director), Maryan Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen (Department of European Paintings), Dorothy Mahon (Sherman Fairchild Paintings Conservation Center), and Ryan Wong (Summer College Intern) discuss The Harvesters (19.164) with Christopher Noey (Digital Media) (2010).
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, active by 1551, died 1569)
Oil on wood
Overall, including added strips at top, bottom, and right, 46 7/8 x 63 3/4 in. (119 x 162 cm); original painted surface 45 7/8 x 62 7/8 in. (116.5 x 159.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1919 (19.164)
This is one of six panels painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder for the suburban Antwerp home of the wealthy merchant Niclaes Jongelinck, one of the artist's most enthusiastic patronsJongelinck owned no less than sixteen of Bruegel's works. The series, which represented the seasons or times of the year, included six works, five of which survive. The other four are: The Gloomy Day, The Return of the Herd, Hunters in the Snow (all Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and Haymaking (Lobkowicz Collections, Prague). Through his remarkable sensitivity to nature's workings, Bruegel created a watershed in the history of Western art, suppressing the religious and iconographic associations of earlier depictions of the seasons in favor of an unidealized vision of landscape. The Harvesters probably represented the months of August and September in the context of the series. It shows a ripe field of wheat that has been partially cut and stacked, while in the foreground a number of peasants pause to picnic in the relative shade of a pear tree. Work continues around them as a couple gathers wheat into bundles, three men cut stalks with scythes, and several women make their way through the corridor of a wheat field with stacks of grain over their shoulders. The vastness of the panorama across the rest of the composition reveals that Bruegel's emphasis is not on the labors that mark the time of the year, but on the atmosphere and transformation of the landscape itself. The Seasons series continued to be cherished even after it left its original setting: in 1594 the panels were purchased by the Antwerp City Council and presented as a gift to Archduke Ernst, governor of the Netherlands, on the occasion of his triumphal entry into the city. From there they entered the illustrious collection of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II at Prague.