Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of BabelOil on coat, 1563, 114 × 155 cm, Museum of art history in Vienna



The masterpiece in Detail!

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel

The history of the Tower of Babel is the same; a warning against the exuberance of mankind. According to the book of Genesis in the Old Testament, they wanted to build a tower that would reach to heaven. They wanted to create a monument to themselves. The people we are talking about here are not many generations away from Adam and Eve. They are the descendants of Noah. But God - in the Old Testament a punitive, intransigent fellow - prevented this by taking away their common language. From now on, the construction of the tower could not go on, because communication was not possible. The city of "Babel" may come from the Hebrew word "balal" for "confuse". 

Two paintings of this theme have survived; a third, small one on ivory is missing. Breugel may also process impressions of his immediate surroundings of Antwerp (then "Antdorff"), which with its more than 100,000 inhabitants was one of the few large cities in Europe and grew steadily. 

A crane is enthroned on a ramp of the tower on the right. It takes three men to serve him. A stone hanging from the crane is lifted. One of these cranes is said to have been on the market in Antwerp. The reproduction of technical details and the transport work gives us a testimony to the building customs of that time. The whole village seems to be helping with the construction of the tower, for this the waterway is also used. The unskilled workers were at the bottom of the hierarchy, the stonemasons at the top. These are to be seen in the foreground in the homage of the ruler. For this they have put aside their tools of course. According to King Nimrod's tradition, the man is marked with a sceptre and crown. 

The architecture of the tower itself tapers upwards. Romanesque and antique influences are recognizable. The white, solid outer walls are openworked at the top right, so that we can see the red bricks inside. But even the outer walls are not finished. In order to make clear what an ambitious project this building is, work is being carried out at all points simultaneously. Small sheds were built on the ramps so that the workers could save the long distances from home to work. In contrast to the mighty tower, it casts a shadow over the city behind it. This makes it not only insignificant in terms of lighting, but also symbolically. There are indications that the work must have originally been even larger and was trimmed on two sides. 

With all the hustle and bustle, the viewer's gaze does not stop. This representation, which has an almost "hidden object" character, influenced many descendants. It was often copied and is the most famous representation of the tower building episode of occidental art history.

© the artinspector / alexandra tuschka