Why did Renaissance artists paint anachronistic reconstructions?

Feb 2019
Pennsylvania, US
This piece was painted by a Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel the Younger, and being in the sort of “Dutch” area at this time would have impacted his art. The Dutch were very down to earth, “real” in their preferences... they were generally wealthy from trade, and often displayed their wealth through objects in Vanitas paintings, but always having symbolic reference to the passing of life and riches, the *vanity* of life and wealth... I.e. “this is beautiful, but think beyond this.”

Also, this painter's father (Pieter Bruegel the Elder) was often painting very modest scenes of everyday people - the poor, working class. The idea of painting field workers or peasants would have been distasteful in the past, not to mention a lot of money in expensive paints, made with gemstones, rare minerals and fine oils, just to have a picture of a poor person. (You have to remember paintings were originally only for the rich patrons, the monarchy and the church). For the son, it may have been an opportunity to paint the average person, the relatable, humble person, much like his father had. Just a thought.

You should check out the Peasant Wedding by Bruegel the Elder... it's a fun piece.
Likes: Todd Feinman
Feb 2019
Pennsylvania, US
This painting was recently part of an art heist... luckily police switched the original for a copy in advance and the thieves took a worthless painting instead. 😄
Likes: Todd Feinman
Jan 2016
Victoria, Canada
It's worth noting that even many medieval artists, especially around the Mediterranean, had a coherent (if not always entirely correct) image of classical Greco-Roman material culture which they incorporated into their work in various ways, though of course they had very little idea what bronze age civilizations were like.

Take middle Byzantine depictions of David and Goliath, for instance, from the Chludov (9th c.) and Paris (10th c.) Psalters respectively:

Goliath wears a bronze muscle cuirass, bronze helmet with plume, and pteruges, and uses a classical sword, spear (note the butt-spike in the latter), and shield (in the former case a phalangite shield and the latter an earlier hoplite design). Compare to a modern reconstruction of an actual ancient Greek hoplite:

Further examples can also be found in the late-9th century illuminated Homilies of Gregory the Theologian, such as this depiction of the classically educated Cyprian as a Pagan philosopher before his conversion to Christianity, complete with himation, statues, scrolls, and astrolabe:

As well as the temples and triumphal columns of Jericho as its walls crumble:

And Julian the Apostate attending sacrifices at a Pagan alter:

Of course these are all from Constantinople -- the medieval city with the most preserved antique statues, sculptures, and buildings by far -- but their influence bled westward, especially to Italy, as can be seen in this 12th century fresco from Civitate:

12th century illuminated manuscript from central France (the Souvigny bible):

And 13th century mosaic from Venice:

There were also a number of classical revival movements in medieval architecture, as can be seen in the 9th century gatehouse of Lorsch Abbey and early 13th century gate of Frederick II's Castel del Monte (a 10th century palace in Rome also has similar themes, but I can't find any pictures of it):

The other posters in the thread are absolutely correct when they say that the piece under consideration in the OP is purposefully designed to be relatable and recognizable, which is particularly true of Gothic art as well (and this specific artist in the post-medieval Northern European semi-Gothic semi-Renaissance tradition), but it should be noted in addition that there existed other traditions in medieval European art which did attempt, in many cases, to depict ancient material culture accurately as the artists understood it, and which proved a crucial influence on the classicizing themes and motifs of the Italian Renaissance. Compare the above colour schemes and motifs to those of Raphael's The School of Athens, for instance:

As well as another folio from the 10th century Paris Psalter:

Likes: civfanatic

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