The Tower of Babel – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elderl’s piece The Tower of Babel was certainly affected by the Reformation. Before the Renaissance and Reformation, religious art was inspired by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Icons made up a lot of the art, and iconic representations of Christ, Mary and other saints were common. This changed greatly as a result of the Reformation. Because the Reformation focused on personal relationships with God and emphasized salvation through divine grace. As with Brugel’s The Tower of Babel, representations of Biblical stories were common. Additionally, this piece represents the Reformed dislike of arrogance and idolatry. Also, in the Biblical story, the Babylonians were building the tower to that they could reach the heavens to worship them. During the Reformation, it was emphasized that only God should be worshipped, and there was a wave of iconoclasm. The tower also resembles the Roman Colosseum, which the Reformers saw as a symbol of opulence and greed. And Bruegel probably painted it as a symbol of God punishing pride to reflect his feelings toward the Catholic church.

Bruegel painted this piece c. 1563, but I cannot seem to find where he painted it. It currently is at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I like this piece because first, I find it visually pleasing. Although the tower is partially destroyed, it is beautifully represented in the painting. I also find it interesting that the scenario painted is so beautiful. The day is calm and bright, the water is beautiful. It seems like Bruegel was pleased with the destruction of the tower. In other representations of the Tower of Babel that I can think of has dark, menacing clouds and a very grey, dim look in general. And I find it so interesting that Bruegels is illustrated so beautifully.


About sarahstates

My name is Sarah States. I like brightly colored things. And my passions are art making and appreciating, couchsurfing, finding new cures for my ever-present wanderlust, CATAWAMPUS, being a burner and the multitude of things that occupy my time.
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3 Responses to The Tower of Babel – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

  1. isostat686 says:

    Sarah, well done, you have clearly expressed why you like this piece by Pieter Bruegel entitled The Tower of Babel. Quoting from you blog “Although the tower is partially destroyed, it is beautifully represented in the painting. I also find it interesting that the scenario painted is so beautiful. The day is calm and bright, the water is beautiful.” (, 2010) I too like how Bruegel expressed a surreal happiness with the towers destruction obviously showcasing his displeasure with the Catholic Church. It has a nice hint of cynicism and sarcasm allowing us to really see inside Bruegel head giving us an understanding of the Reformation. It is unfortunate that you could not track down where he actually painted this. It would give us great insight as to the influences he had that enabled him to create such a vivid and very layered work. I say “layered not with the intention of describing an art technique, but more of a sociological one instead. The pleasant day amidst all that destruction, the height of the tower and its resemblance to the Colosseum, The style of humanism being expressed rather than mannerism are all indicators of how dense this piece is and of how extraordinary Bruegel really was.

    On a side note: I read your first post and am in complete envy (good envy), the fact that you had an opportunity to attend a modern day Renaissance city is truly awesome. I can only imagine the exhibits and to only think of all the talent that must have been there just puts me at a loss of words. -Kudos

  2. Emma says:

    Wow! What a great post! I really enjoyed reading about your opinions. I also picked a work by Pieter Bruegel 🙂 I love his paintings! They are very serene. Even in the midst of destruction, the waters surrounding the tower are pristine. My first thought when coming across your post was that the painting looks very calm. Though there are war ships just at the edge of the water, viewers do not get a sense of heightened danger. It’s a very interesting talent Bruegel possessed.

    The other part of you blog that caught my attention was when you stated, “It seems like Bruegel was pleased with the destruction of the tower.” I liked thinking from that angle. It’s human nature that instigated the creation and the destruction. Therefore, if those who created it were happy that it was being built, why wouldn’t those who oppose the creators’ beliefs be happy for its destruction.

    Thanks for your post!

  3. Dominic says:

    Its always the scenery in these old paintings that make them my favorite. I especially found it interesting with your connection how the tower resembled roman Colosseum and more generally greed. Is it not every artists intention in causing influence or reflecting feelings in their lifetime? 🙂

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