Pieter Bruegel created the incredibly intricate masterpiece, the Tower of Babel in 1563. This historic and religious painting is now housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
During Bruegel's long career, he created many panel paintings that depicted religious events. The Tower of Babel was amongst a number of paintings that were commissioned by the art collector and historian, Niclaes Jonghelinck. This was the second attempt by Bruegel to paint the Tower, as his first painting was a miniature version which today is sadly lost. He then went on to create a third and smaller version of the scene, onto wood in 1564. The Tower of Babel is an incredibly traditional painting, and was inspired by the Biblical passage of Genesis, Chapter 11: verses 1-9. This is where Jesus stands in front of a crowd as they watch a tall tower being built before them.
The scene in the painting also shows King Nimrod with his men, as they observe the workers in their construction efforts. The King and his men were not part of the biblical story, but rather included by Bruegel, as he wanted the observer to take on board how proud the King was and that his sins would be seen by all. Bruegel was known for his painstaking attention to detail in his artwork, and this piece is no exception. The Tower is central and magnificent as it stretches up high into the clouds, with its many windows, intricacies and work in progress clearly evident. There is so much going on in this picture, that at first glance it is incredibly difficult for the mind to make sense of what is being observed. We have the many construction workers who appear at the bottom of the tower and who can also be seen working away at the very top.
What is most impressive about the Tower, is that we can actually see people who are living in it, supposedly as the work is taking far too long. Bruegel has painted people watering their flowers, hanging the washing out and even cooking over a roaring outside fire. Bruegel has very cleverly managed to take an ancient biblical passage, that probably had very little relevance to those living in his day, and managed to turn it into something meaningful and which echoed the every day goings on of those around him. This was one of his many talents and the major recurring theme of his work.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.