Artibus et Historiae no. 26 (XIII)

1992, ISSN 0391-9064

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MARGARET A. SULLIVAN - Bruegel's Misanthrope: Renaissance Art for a Humanist Audience

This study of The Misanthrope by Peter Bruegel the Elder applies an "audience-response" methodology in considering the painting from the point of view of humanists in the Low Countries in the 1550s and the 1560s. On the basis of the literature, emblem books, art, and pageantry of the period, the author suggests that for the audience of mediocriter literati, the painting represented Timon of Athens, the semi-legendary misanthrope of ancient literature. This well-defined character in the ancient world - recognizable by his solitude, sour ex-pression and inhumanitas - was resurrected in the Renaissance and again became proverbial for his bitter hatred of humanity and retreat into isolation.

The Misanthrope is a truly Renaissance work geared to the interests of its original audience, which appreciated it not only for its artistry but also as an example of how the ancient past could be brought to bear on the problems of the present.

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