Temperance, The Seven Virtues

Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel) the Elder c. 1525 – 9 September 1569 was a Dutch Renaissance painter and printmaker from Brabant, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes. 

Bruegel was born during a time of extensive change in Western Europe. Humanist ideals from the previous century influenced artists and scholars in Europe. Italy was at the end of their High Renaissance of arts and culture, when artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci painted their masterpieces. In 1517, about eight years before Bruegel’s birth, Martin Luther created his Ninety-Five Theses and began the Protestant Reformation in neighboring Germany. 

Reformation was accompanied by iconoclasm, and widespread destruction of art, including in Low Countries. In response the Catholic Church which viewed Protestantism and its iconoclasm as a threat to the church, at the Council of Trent, which concluded in 1563, determined that religious art should more focused on religious subject-matter, and less on on material things and decorative qualities.

Most people are familiar with the SEVEN DEADLY SINS, but few know of the VIRTUES designed to counter them!

Sin                                                             Virtue

Lust (excessive sexual appetites)          Chastity (purity)

Gluttony (over-indulgence)                   Temperance (self-restraint)

Greed (avarice)                                        Charity (giving)

Sloth (laziness/idleness)                         Diligence (zeal/integrity/Labor)

Wrath (anger)                                           Forgiveness (composure)

Envy (jealousy)                                         Kindness (admiration)

Pride (vanity)                                            Humility (humbleness)

Rich in detail and tonality, this work is buzzing with activity surrounding the central figure of Temperance, identified ‘TEMPERANCIA’ (lower centre, on the female figure, in pen and brown ink on the bottom of her robe.  She stands calmly with a clock on her head as the surrounding groups are busy at their works.  Theatrically positioned as if they are set off stage, the characters in the work evoke a semester of depth and volume.  

Number  ’17’ (at lower right, on the table, in pen and brown ink), and  ‘hope’ (at upper right, on the male actor, in pen and brown ink)
At first the sensibilities of this engraving appears to be a proud display of human abilities as shown in the seven liberal arts; for, proceeding clockwise from the lower left-hand corner.  One sees 

  • Arithmetic
  • Music
  • Rhetoric
  • Astronomy
  • Geometry 
  • Logic 
  • Grammar 

On closer examination of each scene intemperance and confusion reign.  

  Two astronomers are trying to measure the Earth and the distance between Earth and the moon. However, they are thwarted because the planet is turning on its own axis—indeed, the astronomer standing on Earth and reaching toward the moon is close to falling owing to the rotation.
It has been suggested that the men who are debating at the right are either theologians or representatives of different creeds. The object of their debate would thus be the book to their right, which has to
be the   Bible.              
Twig, 2015

Pieter Bruegel
The Seven Virtues