The Land of Cockaigne

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockaigne1567

By EMMA SHAPIRO 

Cockaigne is a land of gluttony and laziness in medieval myths where the harshness of peasant life ceases and everyone lives in extreme luxe and ease. The imaginary land symbolized freedom to indulge in comfort and pleasure. Scornfully, Bruegel depicts Cockaigne in a manner which mocks humanity. Like many of his paintings which teach lessons to society, this one shows that the world is sinful, greedy, and indolent.

In Bruegel's The Land of Cockaigne, a clerk, peasant farmer, and soldier are sprawled lazily under a tree. The clerk's books and pen lie on the ground, along with the farmer's threshing tool, and the soldier's glove and spear. The tree above them lends shade through it's leaves, but even more through the table of partially eaten food attached. Not only are the men consumed by lethargy, but in their dormancy they only consume and lie around. Behind the men a form of dead fowl sits on a platter and napkin, and a pig with a knife stuck through runs around - each ready to be eaten. On the right, a man falls from a supposed cloud of pudding onto a tree branch. And on the left, another soldier awakens from his nap under a roof of pie.

Bruegel began a long line of painters in his family. With the continuation of the family trade through generations, and growing popularity of prints, Bruegel's influence has endured. Bruegel most commonly illustrated peasants in his works, earning the nickname "peasant Bruegel." Although this name hints to him being a peasant, that is a misconception. Bruegel depicts peasants in all different realms of life. Although his peasant paintings and engravings seem to be merely replications of everyday life, they also reflect his views on humanity, his absurd imagination, and his innate skill. The Land of Cockaigne differs from the other peasant paintings. Instead of portraying the difficult life of a peasant, this shows an ease for all men. The peasant farmer, soldier, and clerk lay together in peace with their respective tools out of hand. Bruegel draws similarities between the men - painting them as equals. He may be trying to convey that all men are lazy and useless, or perhaps that regardless of status, everyone needs a nap and some pie now and then. 



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