Bears in a Wood
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The bears seen in Bears in A Wood would not have been found in Bruegel’s native Netherlands, where bears hadn’t lived since the 11th Century. The artist visited Italy in the 1550s where one could find both the Marsican Brown Bear and the Eurasian Brown Bear. However, both species only existed in small, isolated populations in the centre of the country and in the Alps. It is unlikely that Bruegel ever saw these animals first-hand and his reference-point for this image was likely from a book (between 1555 and 1563 the artist was living in Antwerp, at that time Europe’s publishing capital). Depictions of foreign animals would have been incredibly exciting to 16th Century audiences. Despite only one key colour being used in this work, the artist has executed the design in a huge amount of detail, adding the depth and realism usually lent by colour. Much of Bruegel’s life is undocumented, but his influence on later Dutch art - and the Western painting tradition as a whole - cannot be underestimated. The artist was famed for his scenes of peasant life and landscapes, which lead some historians to believe that he may have come from a peasant background himself. Other historians, however, argue that his work often had highly intellectual content (such as references to mythologies and biblical stories) which suggests that the artist was an educated member of society. Very few sketches of Bruegel’s exist, and most pieces found are in their final form.