Tower of Babel

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563. oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

Records from the mid-16th century provide little detail about Dutch artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/30–1569). We know he fathered two sons, Pieter the Younger and Jan, who would become successful painters despite the death of their father when they were small boys. In 1552–53 Brueghel traveled to Rome, where he encountered the Colosseum, a symbol of the Eternal City built by the Emperor Vespasian as a sign of permanence. Notice how Brueghel’s composition incorporates arches and pillars similar to those of the Colosseum and how the building is listing dangerously to one side. This visual effect represents the futility of the effort to build a “tower with its top in the heavens” (Gen 11:4). Nimrod, leader of the tower’s construction according to tradition, leads the small group of people in the lower left.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563. Oil on panel, Kuntshistorische Museum, Vienna, Austria.

Gen 11:4

4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scat ... View more

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