Complete collection of Bruegel prints on view in Brussels


The World of Bruegel in Black and White showcases all of the 16th-century master’s prints and a few of his drawings

Flanders at centre of printing

All 60 original prints of the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder are on show at Brussels royal library KBR. Alongside this collection – the only complete collection of his prints in the world – are three original drawings.

The Bruegel print collection is delicate and normally stored in the library’s Print Room. They are being put together now in an exhibition as part of Bruegel Year, a series of exhibitions and other special events in recognition of the 450th anniversary of the Flemish master’s death.

The World of Bruegel in Black and White opened yesterday at KBR. It is the first exhibition to be held in the renovated apartments in the Palace of Charles of Lorraine, which have been refurbished as an exhibition space.  

Before Bruegel joined Antwerp’s Guild of Saint Luke as a painter in 1551, he was quite famous as an illustrator and print designer. Prints are made from an artist’s original drawing in a variety of ways, but in Bruegel’s time, it was done with by engraving the image on copper printing plates.

Expert engravers were hired to perform this task, and every print made from the plates is considered an original print. Bruegel’s original prints were quite popular, sold to collectors and art traders across Europe.

The exhibition “is a unique opportunity to get a really close look at his prints,” said KBR in a statement. “It takes you back to the turbulent 16th century, when Flanders was the centre of print production and trading.”

Bruegel worked closely with pioneering printmaker Hieronuymus Cock. The pair’s expert craftsmanship and entrepreneurship are highlighted in The World of Bruegel in Black and White.

“Considerable work was involved in a print before it could be marketed and distributed worldwide,” said KBR. “Visitors to the exhibition will discover the process involved, from drawing to print.”

Photos, from top: Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Big Fish Eat Little Fish”, 1557 ©KBR; the exhibition space in the Palace of Charles of Lorraine ©KBR