© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

About half of the roughly 60 surviving drawings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder represent landscapes. This work, executed near the end of the artist’s two-year visit to Italy, is one of two on blue Venetian paper and is the unique example of a work with highlights in white opaque watercolor. Here, Bruegel appropriated from Venetian artists Titian and Domenico Campagnola the grand, intertwined trees with undulating trunks and gracefully proliferating foliage that dominate the foreground, combining them with a wide scan over a Flemish church toward a faraway coast and high horizon that recalls the panoramic landscapes by early 16th-century Netherlandish masters such as Joachim Patinir.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, Netherlandish (Breda (?), Belgium 1526/30 - 1569 Brussels, Belgium)
Wooded Landscape with a Distant View toward the Sea
Work Type
Physical Descriptions
Brown ink, brown wash and white opaque watercolor over black chalk on blue antique laid paper
26 x 34.4 cm (10 1/4 x 13 9/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: lower left, brown ink: 1554 brueghel
  • inscription: verso, graphite: 18
[Glerum, The Hague, 25 November 1991, lot 53, repr. (as Jan Brueghel the Elder)]. [W. J. van Leeuwen, Amsterdam] sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1992 (without their mark, L. 3306); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 1999.132.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Label Text: 32Q: 2540 Renaissance , written 2014
Shortly after 1500, artists in Antwerp, Venice, and Southern Germany invented a form of pictorial imagery in which landscape plays the dominant role in the composition, rather than merely serving as a backdrop to narrative scenes. Prints and drawings contributed fundamentally to this development and its dissemination.

Innovators of this new art represented nature with unprecedented verisimilitude based on direct observation. Views of the Tuscan countryside drawn c. 1495 and 1508 by the Florentine artist Fra Bartolommeo—like the one exhibited here—attest to an inquisitive drive to study nature, even though such prospects are a marginal element in his pictures. Around 1494, painting outside his native Nuremberg, Albrecht Dürer created watercolors that number among the earliest European landscapes in any medium.
Having mastered the representation of nature, artists began to employ the landscape as a vehicle for emotional expression. The furor with which the Red Sea engulfs the Egyptians, in the enormous woodcut designed by Titian, is reinforced by the vigorous modeling of the storm clouds and roiling water. In the painting attributed to Titian, and in drawings by him and Domenico Campagnola, serene woods, pools, and meadows provide lyrical settings for mythological scenes and idyllic dalliances. In contrast, works by Wolfgang Huber and Augustin Hirschvogel, with impenetrable forests and isolated valleys dominated by eerily drooping evergreens and spiky willows, evoke the solitude and mystery of primeval nature.

In the Netherlands, the Antwerp painter Joachim Patinir invented a type of panorama comprising natural and imaginary topographical features that form an impressive stage for small figures dramatizing biblical or mythological narratives. This tradition culminated in the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, represented here by a drawing that unites the panoramic composition introduced by Patinir with trees whose serpentine trunks and prolifically branching crowns derive from woodcuts by Campagnola. Jacob Grimmer’s painting of 1561, in which meticulously described Flemish farms occupy most of the pictorial space, foreshadows the emergence later in the century of landscapes featuring intimate views of naturalistically depicted local scenery.

Publication History

Hans Mielke, Pieter Bruegel: Die Zeichnungen, Brepols (Turnhout, 1996), cat. no. 7A, pp. 35-36 and 29 (n. 5), repr. p. 124

Martin Royalton-Kisch, "[Review] Pieter Bruegel. Die Zeichnugen", The Burlington Magazine (March 1998), vol. 140, no. 1140, pp. 207-208, no. 7a, p. 208, repr. fig. 68

Nina Eugenia Serebrennikov, "Hans Mielke 'Pieter Bruegel: Die Zeichnungen'" [Review], The Art Bulletin, College Art Association of America (New York, March 1998), vol. 80, no. 1, pp. 176-180, p. 178

William W. Robinson, "Abrams Dutch Drawings Given to the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.", Apollo (December 1999), vol. 150, pp. 14-16, p. 15, repr. fig. 2

James Cuno, ed., A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions by the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, Mass., Spring 2000), p. 43, repr.

Seymour Slive, "Collecting 17th-century Dutch art in the United States: the current boom", Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum (2001), vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 84-99, p. 98 (n. 11)

Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 1999-2000 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), p. 11, repr. p. 11 and cover

Nadine Orenstein and Manfred Sellink, Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints, exh. cat., ed. Nadine Orenstein, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, England, 2001), cat. no. 14, pp. 106-8, and 20, 37 (n. 36), under cat. no. 3, p. 90, under cat. no. 13, p. 104, under cat. no. 16, p. 110, under cat. no. 19, p. 115, under cat. no. 83, pp. 202 and 204 (n. 2), under cat. no. 97, p. 221, repr. pp. 12 and 107 (underdrawing)

Nina Eugenia Serebrennikov, "Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Draftsman Revealed [Review of Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints], The Art Bulletin, College Art Association of America (New York, September 2002), vol. 84, no. 3, pp. 501-510, pp. 503-504, repr. p. 505, fig. 4 (infrared of black chalk underdrawing)

Ger Luijten, "Rotterdam and New York, Pieter Bruegel the Elder's drawings and prints" [Review of exhibition and catalogue], The Burlington Magazine (2002), vol. 144, no. 1186, pp. 50-53, p. 51

William W. Robinson, Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), cat. no. 1, pp. 26-27 and 245, repr.

Jeanne Faton, "Entretien avec George Abrams: Dessins de l'âge d'or hollandais", L'Estampille/L'Objet d'art (April 2003), no. 379, pp. 46-55, repr. p. 46

Bobbie Leigh and Rebecca Dimling Cochran, "The Top 100 Collectors in America", Art & Antiques (March 2003), vol. 26, no. 3, entire issue, p. 48

Michiel C. Plomp, "[Review] Bruegel to Rembrandt. Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection.", Oud Holland (2004), vol. 117, no. 1/2, pp. 99-102, p. 101 (n. 3)

Manfred Sellink, Bruegel The Complete Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Ludion Press Ghent (Ghent, Belgium, 2007), cat. no. 14, pp. 16 and 56-57, repr.

Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 88-89, repr. (including reproduction of infrared reflectogram)

Judith Mann and Babette Bohn, Federico Barocci: Renaissance Master of Color and Line, exh. cat., Yale University Press (U.S.) (Saint Louis / New Haven, 2012), pp. 257 and 261 (n. 17), repr. p. 258, fig. 79

Manfred Sellink, "The Dating of Pieter Brueghel's Landscape Drawings Reconsidered and a New Discovery", Master Drawings (2013), vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 219-322, pp. 301, 316, and 320 (n. 51), repr. p. 300, fig. 9, and p. 316, fig. 36 (detail)

Stijn Alsteens, [Review] William W. Robinson, with Susan Anderson, "Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums", Master Drawings (Winter 2015), LIII, no. 4, pp. 531-534, p. 531

William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), p. 13; cat. no. 15, pp. 70-72, repr. p. 71 and p. 72 as fig. 2 (IR image)

Exhibition History

A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions of Prints and Drawings from 1480 to 1940, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/25/2000 - 07/02/2000

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 05/24/2001 - 08/05/2001; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 09/25/2001 - 12/02/2001

Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, British Museum, London, 06/13/2002 - 09/22/2002; Institut Néerlandais, Paris, 10/10/2002 - 12/08/2002; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/22/2003 - 07/06/2003

32Q: 2540 Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 03/18/2015

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu