Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Harvesters
1565. Oil on panel. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Painting: GoogleArtProject |
The Artist:

UnityDescribe the forms that contribute to the unity of this composition.

(look for elements and traits that repeatedly appear)
Unified by the dominant use of yellow and yellow-browns. Blue is quite subdued — essentially gray. Greens are mostly muted. Accents or rich yellow and red. The warm-dominated scheme relies on very few hues to unify the palette.

The texture of landscape and foliage provides interest throughout.

The major lines have a sort of dog-leg trait... straight and then an elbow, straight, turn, repeat. Its kind of hard to describe, but the main tree trunk does it, and both the near and far edges of the wheat field, and, on closer look, several other edges.

(look for alignments, structures or groupings that organize parts into larger entities (gestalt))

(look for dominances — which traits or elements are prominent throughout the composition?)
Color: Yellow (YYO, MedHi chroma) is prominent. Accent colors include a bit of rich red and blue in the laborer's clothing. Most other color is muted, greyish blue or deep, dark, nearly black greens. The sky's greyish color is echoed in the white shirts and skirts of the labourers.
Texture: Landscape imagery usually relies on varied textures, and Breugel is, here, using varied textures well — foliage near and far, the stalks of grain and the sheaves of grain as well as many detail items offer varied, fine natural textures that contrast with the smoother "non-textured" areas of sky, etc.

VarietyDescribe the forms that contribute to the variety and dynamism of this painting.

(look for contrast of any and every kind. Look especially for similar forms that are varied in some way. Look for anomalies — patterns or norms that are broken.)

Texture is usually smooth or soft, but the fine textures of foliage and wheat stalks contrasts nicely.

Active versus passive activities — not so much a variety of form, but of subject matter. The workers do, however, tend to be vertical, while the resting/eating workers are have short proportions and some diagonal axes.

There is a kind of flowing quality due to contours in the landscape -- a graceful setting is present, rather than a rigid, oppressive working environment.

Focal AreasWhat areas are focal areas?
Describe the forms that contribute to their graphic emphasis?
Note: Comments from several folks have been combined here, so there is some overlap among the comments.

Main Focal Area: The main area of emphasis in this painting is on the group of harvesters in the lower center of the painting.

Directional Device: The large, dark, thick vertical tree trunk catches the viewer's eye and directs your gaze from the top of the painting down to the base of the tree were the harvesters are gathered in the shade for lunch. (directional device)
Color/Pattern Contrast: The resting people create a busy patchwork of markedly bold, contrasting colors and values — particularly compared to the more steady and subdued color in the rest of the composition.

Human Interest: We are interest in them, in part, because of the subject — people in a natural context. They have varied actions — resting, talking, eating. They have varied expressions or attitudes -- some sitting, some stretching, some laying out.

The boldest contrast & sharpest edge is at the crossing along the tree trunk creating a prominent “cross/crucifix” just below the almost-obscured church.
(what might the Protestant Bruegel have been saying about these common working folks, at peace at the foot of the cross?)

The Tree: Emphasis has also been established on the big tree iteself — to the right of the center of the page. The tree draws the viewer's attention because of the contrast in color with the light yellow background and because of the difference (contrast) in size compared to the other elements in the painting.
The tree has emphasis first because it is isolated, overlapping clean, unbusy backgroun areas — it has no other trees around it. Also, its location is prominent — in the almost center of the page. Also, its distinctive size draws attention — it is the biggest tree.
The tree also serves to divide the page vertically -- just as the green area of landscape divide the canvas horizontally.
In addition, the because the people are grouped around the tree it brings even more attention to the tree …they sort of cluster or orbit around it.
The shape of the large wheat field points to or leads to the tree. There is a major directional element formed by the line of cut hay around the tree line and back to the group of people.

The artist used the lines of the fields in the background to lead the viewers eye from the corners of the canvas all the way up to the tree, and then the tree to the resting, eating workers. (directional device) Look at the lighter "paths" and darker "paths" from the left side of the composition leading toward the resting workers.

Secondary Focal Areas:

The town in the distance offers another area of detail and of contrast — a secondary focal area.
The fields, houses and roads in the mid-distance include many activities — human interest in the daily life of the town draws us in, as Bruegel intended.

The other workers, still working in the field, are each quite prominent — isolated against the rich yellow, rather than clustered in a social group (on the right) Their white shirts contrast well with the deep yellows of the wheat/grain.

The mass of trees in the upper right, create a kind of frame or envelope around the mostly-hidden church. This area is the darkest mass in the entire composition...also, the crisp edge between light yellow and dark green/black is very bold, compared to any other edge in the compositon.
The Church and trees offer bit of contrast in depth — the nearer trees overlapping the more distant church. The partially hidden quality adds a bit of mystery/curiousity to the church.


Relief Areas

The broad areas of yellow (wheat fields) and the blue-gray sky offer extreme visual relief. The grey, subdued sky is relief — almost no color-change or pattern, and painted in a very low chroma, greyish color.

The dark mass of foliage around the church, in the upper right, offers relief to the bolder foreground contrasts as well.

The town area is complex, detailed, carefully textured and so is an area of interest (emphasis), but it is has much softer contrasts than the resting harvesters, in the foreground.
The upper right area also has recognizable buildings and details, but all are obscured and subdued by overlapping foliage. So it, also, is a secondary focal area, much less bold and active than the main focal area, the harvesters.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: ABCGallery | Wikipedia | Artchive | WebMuseum | TheMet |