The fall of the blind

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The landscape format painting "The Fall of the Blind" from 1568 has the dimensions 154 cm by 86 cm, which is about twice as wide as it is high.  It shows a group of blind men who cross the picture in single file from left to right and stumble one after the other.  The scene takes place on a village meadow in pale brown tones.  On the left you can see the brown roofs of two thatched houses between some dry trees, on the right a pond or stream surrounded by trees.  The background is formed by a gently rolling hill and, in addition to a few other trees, a village church depicted in delicate shades of blue.  It could be late summer or the beginning of autumn.  The meadow ends in the front left of the picture at a sudden break, which reveals the white clay soil;  along this edge the meadow forms a slope.  The six men - easy to recognize as blind - move on this slope in a flat diagonal from top left to bottom right through the picture.  They wear typical medieval clothing in predominantly gray and pale blue tones: breeches with white stockings and black shoes, over them a doublet or a skirt, held together by a belt to which some have attached a leather bag.  All have wide cloaks, tied at the neck and open at the front, around their shoulders;  everyone wears a head covering - a hat, cap or hood.  Every second person has a long wooden stick in their hand.  The blind are on the move as if on a chain, everyone has grasped the shoulder of the person in front or his staff reaching backwards, lifted his head with his blind eyes - while every sighted person would have looked at the uneven ground.  The foremost of the men fell.  He is now lying with his back in the water at the right edge of the picture, his bent legs stretched towards the viewer and his arms helplessly raised.  The second in the series was swept away by the fallen victim and is shown in the moment of falling.  His body has already tilted 45 degrees forward (to the right in the picture), his head is turned towards the viewer - the horror is written on his face.  The third follows the second after a small gap and is in the front center of the picture.  He is holding the second's stick with his left hand stretched forward, stumbling and is already a little forward (to the right in the picture).  His face shows the amazement at what is happening in front of him, which he can only guess at.  The other three, in the left half of the picture, have no idea what is in store for them, they grope, holding each other by the shoulders, from the left in single file.  The images of the six figures are reminiscent of the individual images of a film, they could also show the movement of a single stumbling person in six phases, who tilts from left to right, along the falling diagonals, with increasing inclination through the image and finally comes to a rest.
The fall of the blind
Pieter Bruegel the Elder , 1568
Tempera on canvas
86 × 154 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

The Fall of the Blind is a painting by the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder . The 154 cm × 86 cm large tempera painting on canvas was created in 1568. It can be viewed today in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples . Several copies of this picture are known, a 118 cm × 168 cm oil painting on wood is in the Louvre in Paris .

The paintings

Structure and design

The image shows the head and shoulders of the second blind man.  He is wearing a light gray cloak and a white hood, the straps of which he has not closed.  He's unshaven and his lank brown hair protrudes from under the hood.  He has turned his face towards the viewer, his large, circular eye sockets are empty - his eyes have been gouged out.
Punched out eyes (detail)

The group forms a diagonal from top left to bottom right, separated from the viewer by a sudden break (lower left corner). Directly behind the first blind man there is a body of water that cuts off the group from the village houses on the other bank - in the upper right half of the picture there is a church. Bruegel depicts falling movements in different phases on the sloping terrain. The fifth figure from the left, who is about to fall like a companion into the pool, is the only one to turn to the viewer. The depiction is so precise that the cause of blindness can be determined in three of them: the third from the left suffers from a leukoma , the fourth from black star and the fifth's eyes have been gouged out .

In contrast to his dance and wedding pictures, Bruegel hardly uses color contrasts and a very reduced palette of brown and blue-gray tones.

The motif

The painting is based on the parable of the fall of the blind from the Bible . In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says about the Pharisees : “Leave them alone, they are blind guides for the blind. But if one blind man leads the other, they both fall into the pit. " ( Mt 15,14  EU )

This motif was picked up by different painters in the Renaissance period and implemented in different ways. Bruegel relates it entirely to the time in which he lived and merely suggests the religious context.

Background and interpretation

The image section shows the upper body and head of the third (right) and fourth blind man, in the background the hill and in front of it a farmhouse.  The one on the left has put his hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him.  He wears a light cloak over a leather doublet and a hat over a white cloth hood.  He has turned his beardless face upwards with his mouth half open.  The one on the right has a cloak with a black yoke thrown over the dark vest.  He has a black three-day beard and short black hair protrudes from under the dark hood.  The depiction of the eyes of the two is so precise that experts were able to diagnose glaucoma in the left and black star in the right.
Leukoma and Black Star (excerpt)

In the Renaissance , the blind were usually depicted with their eyes closed. Bruegel proceeded differently, he looked closely at his contemporaries. There were many blind people in his world, not all of them were born from birth, rather poor hygiene and diseases played their part. In a medical work from 1585 alone 113 eye diseases are mentioned; Often there was no cure for those affected. And because the blind were dependent on alms , that is, they were felt to be lying on the pockets of others, many of them belonged to the beggars who lived ailing, ragged and neglected on the streets. Bruegel depicts his blind people accordingly. According to the Calvinist doctrine, blindness was a punishment: Those who were left in misery by God deserved it. The diagonally downward path of the group of people indicates that the rest of the group is about to fall. A white Madonna lily hangs over the water of the pool on the edge of which the first blind man fell . Lilies were considered a sign of purity and redemption; Bruegel does not say whether this will be granted to those who fall.

The picture shows the slender front of a smaller Gothic village church.  It stands between defoliated trees in front of a wintry, blue-gray sky on a walled hill.  The tower has a high, pointed roof with a cross, two windows with Gothic pointed arches immediately below the roof and another above the closed entrance portal.
The gothic village church of St. Anna (Sint Anna Pede) in
Dilbeek, Belgium

The importance of the church in the background is controversial among art historians. There are three different approaches that none of them could claim. Some believe that the church has no meaning, as Bruegel often integrated such into his pictures. Others explain, with regard to the religious background, that the withered little tree in front of her (almost just a dry branch) signals that she, being led by Pharisees , has become useless. A third group, on the other hand, sees a moral clue in the special position that the church occupies in the picture: It is not by chance that it is placed between the two blind men who have already fallen and the group of the last four: This indicates that the first two lost, but the other four can still be saved.

The building can be identified as the village church of St. Anna near Brussels .


  • Elias Canetti gives in the chapter “Simsons Blendung” of the second volume of his autobiography, Die Fackel im Ohr (page 111), a pictorial description of this painting, which - like the blinding of Samson - has a key motivic function for his novel Die Blendung .
  • With the story Der Blindensturz (Darmstadt 1985), Gert Hofmann contrasted the master picture with a master story about the painting.


  • Jürgen Müller : Of churches, heretics and other blind leaders - Pieter Bruegels d. Ä. The fall of the blind and the aesthetics of subversion ; In: Piltz, Eric (ed.): Godlessness and stubbornness: Religious deviance in the denominational age , Duncker and Humblot, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-428-14481-5 pp. 493-530.
  • Rose-Marie Hagen, Rainer Hagen: Masterpieces in detail . Volume 2. Taschen Verlag, Cologne et al. 2003, ISBN 3-8228-1371-0 .
  • Heinke Sudhoff: Iconographic investigations on the "healing of the blind" and on the "blind fall". A contribution to Pieter Bruegel's Neapler painting from 1568 . Bonn 1981, (Bonn, Univ., Diss., 1980).

See also

supporting documents

  1. ^ Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen –- Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Ä. - Farmers, fools and demons, Cologne: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH 1999 p. 80
  2. Pieter Bruegel the Elder Ä. - Peasants, fools and demons , p. 75
  3. Gerhard Larchner / Karl M. Woschitz - Religion, Utopia, Art: the city as a focus , Vienna: Lit-Verlag 2005 S. 57 ISBN 3-8258-7724-8

Web links

Commons : The Fall of the Blind  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files