Pieter Brueghel the Elder – The Parable of the Blind. Precious and Eternal Warning to Humanity – Culture and Resistance

Notes and reflections by Nora Hoppe and Tarik Marzban

“The Parable of the Blind”tempera painting on canvas (86×154 cm) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, dating from around 1568 and kept in the National Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, is a biblical parable from Matthew 15:14: “Leave them alone: ​​they are blind, leading the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.”

The six blind men are presented in various stages of their fall, and their expressions range from certainty to surprise and confusion. They are connected by outstretched arms and wooden slats, in increasing degrees of imbalance, like an inverted domino. These people are drawn with such precision that ophthalmologists can identify various diseases in the eyes of each of them, such as glaucoma, atrophy of the eyeball, removed eyes, and corneal leukoma.

At that time, the Netherlands was under the rule of Spain, led by the Duke of Alba (Fernando Alvarez de Toledo), who in 1567 heretics. The council ordered mass arrests and executions to establish Spanish rule and suppress Protestantism. When Brueghel wrote this work, the riots were in full swing, religious schisms reached their final demarcation.

Apparently, the painter did not express his philosophy or political ideas in words. But his paintings seem to convey with a certain force his views on the society in which he lived. (They say that pictures speak louder than words…) However, it is known that Brueghel’s works are open to numerous and varied interpretations, sometimes contradicting each other.

What does this picture want to convey to us?

All the blind, with the exception of the collapsed head, are dressed in various shades of gray, similar to the colors of the threatening architectural structures of the environment, and their procession up the descending slope clearly shows a downward trend as they make their way towards the dark light. ditch. . The sloping roofs of the houses where these people come from exacerbate the downward drive of an invisible force. The placement of the harsh and edgy Sint Anna Catholic Church that appears ominously in the background of the painting has led to both pro-Catholic and anti-Catholic interpretations.

An important detail: the blind are not poor beggars or peasants; they are quite well dressed and some seem to have bags full, suggesting they might not be what they seem. Then they will not be “poor victims.” Perhaps Brueghel suggests that these people are blind not only physically, but also spiritually?

One notable aspect of this formation, which is gradually being destroyed one by one, is that blind people are usually unusually aware of their surroundings and the ground under their feet; usually they feel the dangerous descent, avoid it, and also feel the vibrations of the person falling in front of them. Can we then conclude that these people are deliberately seeking their own downfall?

In the original painting (which has undergone some deterioration over time), to the right of the church, a small cow, a shepherd and a poultry are to be found near a tree. These elements are no longer visible today, having been erased in the past. However, we can get an idea of ​​what they look like thanks to first copies of the painting made by others, as in the picture below, in which we see a shepherd, a simple peasant, not paying attention to this strange string of unfortunates.

It is also interesting to note that even in his painting (or at least in his writing paintings) “Landscape with the fall of Icarus” – Brueghel depicts the fall of the “figure of arrogance” as the peasants immerse themselves in their daily work. In both paintings, the theme of autumn … but the life of peasants, farm laborers, workers still continues.

Interpretations of the painting de “The Parable of the Blind” there has always been a lot: whether it was a denunciation of the perfidy of the Spanish authorities, or a condemnation of the hypocrisy of the established religion, or a warning about the impotence of a divided church, or a mockery of the upper classes, with their heads in the air, compared to those who care about the land, and so on.

But one interpretation that clearly remains unshakable is the literal interpretation of the proverb that bad leadership misleads its followers. And this is what makes the meaning of the picture eternal and what makes its impact resonate today.

Therefore, this picture inspired many other artists and thinkers, including Baudelaire.

American poet William Carlos Williams:

Arnold Hauser (Hungarian art critic and sociologist): “With this work, Pieter Brueghel set out to demonstrate how much misunderstanding there is in human existence.”

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For our time, more than ever, this picture can signal to us: blindness to our world and nature, the inability of religion to save its followers, human disorientation, the fall of the institution, power, state, unconsciousness and unconsciousness. the masses, the formation of a social swarm, collective psychosis, the “bringing in order”, the homologation and the Gleichschaltung of a society on the way to its collapse.

And today in the picture, by a strange coincidence, the farmer and his cattle are no longer depicted. They have been erased by time.

Today, this image makes us think, among other things, about the European countries that are members of NATO, and about those who are about to join it.

“The Parable of the Blind” Pieter Brueghel the Elder is not only a masterpiece of art, but also a precious and eternal warning to humanity.

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