Curator Peter van der Coelen’s favourite Bruegel print

The Tower of Babel and ninety other extraordinary masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection were recently exhibited in Tokyo and Osaka. This was the first time that such a rich group of early Netherlandish works was shown in Japan. The same selection of works is on view in Rotterdam from 3 February to 21 May 2018 under the title BABEL: Old Masters Back from Japan. Unique survey The exhibition BABEL: Old Masters Back from Japan provides a unique survey of art from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, beginning with Dieric Bouts and ending with Pieter Bruegel. It charts the spectacular development in art in the Low Countries in this period: from religious motifs to new themes such as landscapes, portraits and still lifes. In addition to The Tower of Babel, the exhibition features 38 paintings and 43 prints from the museum’s collection. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the few museums in the world with such a rich collection of early Netherlandish art. The exhibition was curated by the museum’s Curator of Prints and Drawings, Peter van der Coelen, together with his colleague Friso Lammertse. This is his favourite work from the exhibition.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder Brueghel

c.1526-30 Brussels 1569 Engraved by Frans Huys Antwerp 1522 1562 Ice Skating at St George’s Gate, Antwerp, c.1558 Engraving BdH 8020 (PK)

Ice Skating at St George’s Gate, Antwerp

‘This skating scene in Antwerp is Bruegel’s earliest print with an image from everyday life. He has depicted the inhabitants of his own city skating on ice, a highlight of the winter season. The moats around the city walls are frozen and provide amusement for young and old alike, both on the ice and from the sidelines. The bystanders laugh at the foolish postures and clownish movements of those attempting to negotiate the slippery ice. The skater who has fallen, lying on the ice with his buttocks bared, is the object of especial merriment. People point at him from both the bridge and the embankment, with reactions ranging from an amused look to roars of laughter.

Bruegel invites us, as viewers, to laugh with the bystanders. To this end, he employs the device of the man who approaches us in the foreground, almost skating out of the image. He engages us with a fearful expression as he attempts to keep his balance, his arms and legs akimbo.’