Magpie on the Gallow – (Pieter Bruegel The Elder) Previous Next


Topic: Animals

Date: 1568

Size: 46 x 51 cm

Museum: Hessisches Landesmuseum (Darmstadt, Germany)

Technique: Oil On Panel

The painting shows a woodland clearing containing three peasants dancing to a bagpipes, next to a gallows upon which a magpie is perched. The gallows stands in the centre of the picture, dividing the painting in two, a Mannerist composition with the right side more "open" and left more "closed", with the magpie close to the exact centre of the painting. The gallows appears to form an "impossible object", similar to a Penrose triangle, with the bases of the posts seemingly planted side by side, but with the right side of the cross-member receding into the distance, and contradictory lighting. Another magpie sits on a rock at the base of the gallows, near the skull of an animal. The only people occupy the left foreground: a man defecates in the shadows to the left, while others watch the three dancers. To the right stands a cross with a watermill behind. The background opens on to a view of a river valley, with a town to the left and castle on a rocky crag above, and a tower on a rock outcrop to the right, and distant hills and the sky beyond. Behind the dancers rise two intertwined trees, a motif used by Bruegel in an earlier drawing of bears playing in a forest. An impression of depth is given by the progression from dense brown tones dominating of the foreground, through green midtones in the middle distance, to light blues and greys for the background. It is not known why or for whom the picture was painted. Its date of 1568 makes this painting one of Bruegel's last works before his death in 1569. It is now held by the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt.

This artwork is in the public domain.


Pieter Bruegel The Elder


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