Pieter Aertsen, nicknamed "Langhen Pier" because of his height, was best known for introducing still-life and genre scenes as subjects worthy of painting. Karel van Mander, the first northern European art historian, provides much of what we know about Aertsen.
Aertsen was born in Amsterdam and trained with Alart Claessen before mov­ing to Antwerp, where he married and entered the painters' guild in 1533. Before 1557 Aertsen returned to Amsterdam, where he remained for the rest of his life. Although Aertsen received many important commissions to paint religious al-tarpieces—the major livelihood for artists of his time—iconoclasts, objecting to depictions of sacred subjects, destroyed many of his explicitly religious works in a massive uprising in 1566. Aertsen is best known for his kitchen scenes, such as butcher stalls or fruit and vegetable vendors, with large robust figures and realistic depictions of foodstuffs in vibrant natural colors, a subject that anticipates two significant categories of Dutch painting a generation later: still life and genre, or scenes of everyday life.
On first view, Aertsen's unusual paintings appeal for the artist's treatment of new, realistic subject matter, but a closer look reveals that in some, Aertsen retains an interest in traditional religious narrative. Many of his genre and still­life paintings contain biblical subjects in the background, while more prosaic images of fruit, vegetables, or meat loom prominently in the foreground. In one such still life, a scene of Christ in the house of Martha and Mary appears in the background, and in his 1551 Butcher's Stall, fresh beef flesh hanging in the foreground of a butcher's stall overshadows the religious subject of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt.
Aertsen, like his more famous countryman Pieter Bruegel,* also captured colorful, lively scenes of peasant life in paintings such as The Country Feast (1551), The Egg Dance (1552), and Country Gathering (1557). Although free-spirited and even erotic in tone, these paintings were probably moralizing ad­monitions against loose behavior. Aertsen contributed a unique style of painting for his generation, combining brilliant color with monumentality in describing simple, humble people and the goods of daily life with immediacy and dignity.
K.P.F. Moxley, Pieter Aertsen, Joachim Beuckelaer, and the Rise ofSecular Painting in the Context ofthe Reformation, 1977.
Susan H. Jenson

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

Look at other dictionaries:

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