Tower of Babel

	Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel painted a series of three pictures of the Tower of Babel; one, on ivory, is lost.

‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11:4).

“The workers in the painting have built the arches perpendicular to the slanted ground, thereby making them unstable and a few arches can already be seen crumbling. The foundation and bottom layers of the tower had not been completed before the higher layers were constructed.”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563, detail

“Bruegel’s depiction of the architecture of the tower, with its numerous arches and other examples of Roman engineering, is deliberately reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum, which Christians of the time saw as both a symbol of hubris and persecution…

“The parallel of Rome and Babylon had a particular significance for Bruegel’s contemporaries: Rome was the Eternal City, intended by the Caesars to last for ever, and its decay and ruin were taken to symbolize the vanity and transience of earthly efforts.

….

“It is a fact that the story of the Tower of Babel was interpreted as an example of pride punished, and that is no doubt what Bruegel intended his painting to illustrate. Moreover, the hectic activity of the engineers, masons and workmen points to a second moral—the futility of much human endeavour… Bruegel’s knowledge of building procedures and techniques is considerable and correct in detail.”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563

See also The End of the Age of Tall Buildings.

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