Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Bruegel pen and ink landscape

Landscape with the Penitence of Saint Jerome, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, pen and brown ink
Landscape with the Penitence of Saint Jerome, Pieter Bruegel the Elder

In the National Gallery of Art, D.C, with zoomable version (also downloadable if you create a free account). There is an additional zoomable image on the Google Art Project and a smaller downloadable version on Wikimedia Commons.

The nominal penitent saint is probably the least interesting part of this beautiful and sweeping landscape, rendered with remarkable delicacy in pen and brown ink by the 16th century Flemish master.

I had the pleasure of seeing this —and a number of other Bruegel landscape drawings — several years ago at a show at the National Gallery, and they just knocked me out.

I particularly love Bruegel’s lively and economical shorthand expression of distant trees and foliage, which on closer examination looks less casual, and more like every stroke was lovingly placed. The former is of course more likely, but his confident mastery creates an appearance of care and precision.

In their simplicity, his renderings of the trees also carry for me a feeling of Chinese ink painting, as does the relative scale of the figures to the composition.

The actual influences, however, are Italian — Bruegel’s approach to drawing and painting landscape changed after he spent time copying from Venetian Renaissance masters like Titian and Domenico Campagnola during a trip to Italy in the mid 1500s.

Landscape with the Penitence of Saint Jerome; NGA, DC