ⓘ Children's Games (Bruegel)

Children's Games (Bruegel)

ⓘ Childrens Games (Bruegel)

Childrens Games is an oil-on-panel by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. It is currently held and exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


1. Description

This painting, mentioned for the first time by Karel van Mander in 1604, was acquired in 1594 by Archduke Ernest of Austria. It has been suggested that it was the first in a projected series of paintings representing the Ages of Man, in which Childrens Games would have stood for Youth. If that was Bruegels intention, it is unlikely that the series progressed beyond this painting, for there are no contemporary or subsequent mentions of related pictures.

The children, who range in age from toddlers to adolescents, roll hoops, walk on stilts, spin hoops, ride hobby-horses, stage mock tournaments, play leap-frog and blind mans bluff, perform handstands, inflate pigs bladders and play with dolls and other toys. See details below They have also taken over the large building that dominates the square: it may be a town hall or some other important civic building, in this way emphasizing the moral that the adults who direct civic affairs are as children in the sight of God. This crowded scene is to some extent relieved by the landscape in the top left-hand corner; but even here children are bathing in the river and playing on its banks.

The artists intention for this work is more serious than simply to compile an illustrated encyclopaedia of childrens games, though some eighty particular games have been identified. See details below Bruegel shows the children absorbed in their games with the seriousness displayed by adults in their apparently more important pursuits. His moral is that in the mind of God childrens games possess as much significance as the activities of their parents. This idea was a familiar one in contemporary literature: in an anonymous Flemish poem published in Antwerp in 1530 by Jan van Doesborch, mankind is compared to children who are entirely absorbed in their foolish games and concerns.