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Fall of Rebel Angels

Painting, 1562, 117×162 cm

Description of the artwork «Fall of Rebel Angels»

The Fall of Rebel Angels by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is one of the masterpieces in the collection of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. The Institute acquired the painting in 1846, considering the work of his son, Pieter Bruegel the Younger. Later its creator was named Hieronymus boschuntil in 1898 in the lower left corner behind the frame the inscription “MDLXII / Brvegel” was not found. So the panel was attributed to the true author.

The theme of the film is the first battle between the Good and the Evil, which occurred before the Fall. Then the most powerful angel Lucifer ("luminiferous", - Lat.) Rebelled against the divine power and was ordered by God to be overthrown by the archangel Michael along with other rebellious angels. During the fall, they turned into demons and were doomed to dwell in the Underworld.

The composition is divided horizontally into two approximately equal halves - heaven in the upper part and hell in the lower. The light shades of heaven contrast with the rich, dark tones of hell, where ocher and warm brown tones merge. In the center is depicted the archangel Michael in golden armor and with spread wings. His face is impassive, and his cloak develops in the air in picturesque folds. The right leg of the senior messenger of the Most High rests on the belly of the seven-headed monster described in Chapter 12 of the Revelations of John the Divine.

Bruegel originally united Lucifer and the ancient serpent, referring to two stories - the beginning and the end of time - and thereby hinting at the omnipresence of the battle between Good and Evil and one of its most important components, Pride. In this panel, the artist combined space and time in one comprehensive image.

Archangel Michael is preparing to deliver a mortal blow to the dragon with his sword, before casting him and the fallen angels into the depths of hell. The twisted dragon carcass of Lucifer and the seven heads thrown back already hint at what should happen. In the background, angels flow from the sky in infernal spirals, destined to turn into hellish creatures. Mikhail's supporters are already trumpeting, proclaiming a quick victory.

Bruegel's work is replete with connections to the New World. During the entire 16th century, more extensive studies of the American continent were carried out. Its fauna, flora and indigenous peoples became objects of detailed observations and descriptions. The abundance of botanical and zoological samples brought by the first researchers, as well as the desire to catalog new knowledge led to the appearance of cabinets of rarities or cunstkameras.

Most collectors of the time distinguished what was created by man ("artifacts"), from what was created by nature ("naturalia"). Bruegel, who carefully studied the surrounding world, filled his composition with bizarre combinations of one with the other, as the collector fills his office with rarities. Thus, the armor of an armadillo with classic bone plates and a ribbed tail turns into heavy metal armor. The presence of this animal suggests that Bruegel was familiar with the writings of the first explorers of the American continent. And the fact that the artist connects him with a demon is characteristic of a specific perception of the New World.

Among naturalis, parts of crustaceans, mollusks and fish can be identified. For example, exotic fish-hedgehog from the tropical seas, which turns into a spiked ball when threatened. It is clear that the sword of one of the angels who are fighting together with Saint Michael is brought over her.

Bruegel equipped the fallen angels with various hand-made artifacts, such as scientific or musical instruments, weapons and armor, ethnographic objects and even works of art. On one, for example, there is a bib of a sundial, the two parts of which are tied with a leather strap. Such watches, as a rule, were made of ivory and were highly valued by collectors. In addition, it was believed that this device is able to correct earthly chaos and synchronize the life of people with the regularity of the universe. Hanging this watch on a fallen angel, Bruegel, seems to demonstrate a certain irony in relation to this idea.

According to art critic Tina Megank, in “The Fall of Rebellious Angels” Peter Bruegel the Elder reflected the political chaos in the Netherlands of that period - the growing tension between the country's Catholic rulers and local Protestant aristocrats. In this work, the artist represents the world led to the apocalypse, which turned out to be a prediction: four years later, in 1566, mass anti-Catholic unrest swept across Flanders, serving as a prologue to the Eighty Years War. Thus, the warning written by Bruegel — pride before a fall — became a painful reality.

Bruegel's sources of inspiration testify to his accurate and deep knowledge of the works of art and the world around it. His masterpiece invites the viewer to reflect on the possibilities and dangers of human aspirations for knowledge and art. This is a particularly attractive topic for erudite collectors of the time, which undoubtedly has not lost its relevance over the centuries.

Author: Vlad Maslov. According to the book by Tina Meganck "The Elder's Day of the Rebel Angels: Art, Knowledge and Politics of the Dutch Revolt"
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Religious scene

Style of art: Northern Renaissance

Technique: Oil

Materials: Wood

Date of creation: 1562

Size: 117×162 cm

Artwork in selections: 21 selections

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