Pieter Bruegel the ElderFlanders ca. 1525/30-1569
The Parable of the Good Shepherd 25.0032
The iconography (symbolic meaning) of the painting is based on the biblical account in John 10 of the Good Shepherd, whose sheep know his voice, and who would give his life for his flock in defending them against wolves and thieves. The Latin inscription above the door translates as, "I am the door of the sheep." Thieves enter the sheepfold by the roof; the shepherd enters by the door. Bruegel's (Broy-gull's) figures-types drawn from everyday life, from different occupations (scribes, soldiers, and shepherds) and social classes (rich and poor)-are depicted as thieves willing to destroy the sheepfold in their efforts to steal Christ's flock, contrasted against the vigilance of the ever-faithful shepherd. Behind the sheepfold the two shepherds, good and bad, are contrasted. The good shepherd on the left confronts the wolves and defends his flock. The bad shepherd on the right runs away and abandons his sheep. Since The Parable of the Good Shepherd is not signed or dated, there is some question over its attribution. Although this work could be by Bruegel, it may also be by his son, Pieter Bruegel the Younger, who imitated his father's style and subjects; or it might be by one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's contemporary copyists. The stocky figures in heavy woolen clothing, subdued colors, and thin layer of paint, are characteristic of paintings by the elder Bruegel. Bruegel has been called the greatest Netherlandish artist of the 16th century, both for his brilliant depictions of rustic life and his ability to translate proverbial themes into universal statements. Many of Bruegel's drawings were engraved and sold by others. Approximately forty of these engravings survive, including one by Philipp Galle from 1565 very similar to this painting.
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