World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Children's Games (Bruegel)


Children's Games (Bruegel)

Children's Games
Artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Year 1560[1]
Type Oil on panel
Dimensions 118 cm × 161 cm (46 in × 63 in)
Location Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Children's Games is an oil-on-panel by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. It is currently held and exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


  • Description 1
  • The games 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


This painting, mentioned for the first time by Karel van Mander in 1604, was acquired in 1594 by Archduke Ernest of Austria. It has been suggested that it was the first in a projected series of paintings representing the Ages of Man, in which Children's Games would have stood for Youth. If that was Bruegel's intention, it is unlikely that the series progressed beyond this painting, for there are no contemporary or subsequent mentions of related pictures.[2]

The children, who range in age from toddlers to adolescents, roll hoops, walk on stilts, spin hoops, ride hobby-horses, stage mock tournaments, play leap-frog and blind man's bluff, perform handstands, inflate pigs' bladders and play with dolls and other toys.See details below They have also taken over the large building that dominates the square: it may be a town hall or some other important civic building, in this way emphasizing the moral that the adults who direct civic affairs are as children in the sight of God. This crowded scene is to some extent relieved by the landscape in the top left-hand corner; but even here children are bathing in the river and playing on its banks.

The artist's intention for this work is more serious than simply to compile an illustrated encyclopaedia of children's games, though some eighty particular games have been identified.See details below Bruegel shows the children absorbed in their games with the seriousness displayed by adults in their apparently more important pursuits. His moral is that in the mind of God children's games possess as much significance as the activities of their parents. This idea was a familiar one in contemporary literature: in an anonymous Flemish poem published in Antwerp in 1530 by Jan van Doesborch (nl), mankind is compared to children who are entirely absorbed in their foolish games and concerns.[3]

The games

Starting from bottom left, the games may be identified as follows:

Number Image Game Notes
01 Playing with dolls
02 Playing 'Holy Mass' Small liturgical objects used at Mass and Liturgies
03 Water gun and owl on support Shooting water at a bird
04 Wearing masks Wearing disguises for fun
05 Swing The classic hanging seat
06 Climbing a fence A popular pastime with neighbour's fences
07 Handstand There are many variations of handstands, but all that matters is balance
08 Play the "knot" Bending the body to contorted positions
09 Somersault Flipping and rolling forwards, backwards, or sideways
10 Fence riding Again, a fence game
11 Mock wedding It is exactly at the diagonal centre of the panel. Perhaps an irony of the holy sacrament, or a reference to the main event that allows conception of children
12 Passing through kicking legs Painful but dynamic
13 Blind Man's Bluff Blind fortune
14 Playing with birds Ever popular
14b Making hats with twigs Basket weaving
15 Soap bubbles Still a popular pastime, Bruegel shows children blowing bubbles with clay pipes and verifies soap bubbles being used as entertainment for at least 400 years
16 Shell bobbin A flying spinneret made of nut shells
17 The "Toton" Forerunner of the roulette and dice games
17b Toy animal with leash A stone dog of sorts
18 Knucklebones Game of very ancient origin, played with five small objects, originally the "knucklebones" (actually the astragalus: a bone in the ankle, or hock) of a sheep, which are thrown up and caught in various ways
19 Mock baptismal Re-enacting the procession of adults carrying home a baby just baptized. The blue hood symbolises deception ("hooding the husband" meant to cuckold him, as shown in Bruegel's Netherlandish Proverbs).
20 Morra A hand game - similar to rock, paper, scissors - that dates back thousands of years to ancient Roman and Greek times
21 Piñata A papier-mâché or other type of container that is decorated, filled with toys and or candy and then broken, usually as part of a ceremony or celebration
22 Walk on stilts Walking poles equipped with steps for the feet to stand on, they can be short (like here) or long (see below)
23 Play leapfrog Vaulting over each other's stooped backs
24 Mock tournaments Competitions of various kind
25 The "Pope's seat" Holding the child by gripping hands
26 Hobby-horse Riding a wooden hobby horse made of a straight stick with a small horse's head
27 Stirring excrements with a stick Not a healthy game
28 Playing the flute and the drum Playing simple music with basic instruments, always popular with kids
29 The simple roll hoop Children and adults around the world have played with hoops, twirling, rolling and throwing them throughout history
30 Shouting into a barrel from a hole The many uses of a barrel
31 The hoop with bells A variation of rolling the hoop
32 Riding the barrel With barrel vaulting, another popular play
33 Hat throwing Throw them through a child's open legs, or see who throws farthest
34 Raisinbread man A man-shaped loaf of bread, offered during wakes or at Christmas
35 The penalty of "bumbouncing" Bouncing someone's buttocks on planks
Number Image Game Notes
36 Ball made with an inflated pig's bladder Inflating a pig's bladder to create a balloon
37 How many goat horns? The child must guess with how many fingers he was slapped by the other riding him
38 To play shop On the wooden plank below the funnel Bruegel inscribed "BRUEGEL 1560" Red pigment was made from scraping bricks and was most famous from Antwerp.
39 Playing Tiddlywinks Played with small discs called "winks", a pot, and a collection of squidgers. The children use a "squidger" (a disk) to propel a wink into flight by pressing down on a wink, thereby flicking it into the air: the objective of the game is to score points by sending one's own winks into the pot
40 Building (a well) Like sandcastles on a beach, building is ever popular
41 Pulling hair A game or a fight?
42 Catching insects with a net Not only butterflies
43 Playing the scourge Not a safe game
44 Playing marbles Ancient and still going strong nowadays
45 Pitch and toss The players each take a coin and take turns tossing them towards the wall: the coin the closest to the wall wins
45b Twirling a hat on a stick Clowns do it regularly
46 Making a procession Popular among children and adults, in diverse applications
47 Playing the porter or goalkeeper?
48 Who's got the ball? Hiding the ball and guessing who has it
49 Riding piggyback Still going strong, riding on someone's shoulders
50 Singing door-to-door Especially now at Christmas, with carols
51 Bonfire Lighting a fire, a dangerous but ever-practiced activity
52 Riding a broom A variation of hobby-horse, but with many players
53 Pushing a wall good for exercising muscles
54 Hide-and-seek Or "hide and go seek", a game in which a number of players conceal themselves in the environment, to be found by one or more seekers
55 The "devil's tail" or the "snake" Role play as a street game
56 Grappling A basic form of wrestling
57 The "devil chained" Role play as a street game
58 Run, jump on a cellar's door Noisy and unsafe
59 Bowling Players attempt to score points by rolling a ball along a flat surface, either into pins or to get close to a target ball
60 The token Running and handing off the baton to the next runner
61 Throwing walnuts Perhaps a variation of bowling or bocce, hitting an assembled cluster of nuts
62 High stilts Walking on long poles
63 Pole vaulting Exercising on a horizontally fixed bar
64 Balancing a stick on a finger A clownish game of balance
65 Put up a show Enacting a play
66 Spinning tops Using toys that can be spun on an axis, balancing on a point
67 The trolleys Baskets moving on a line
68 Flying a ribbon on a stick Letting a piece of cloth fly in the wind from a stick
69 Whom shall I choose? A girl selects her "baby" from a group of friends under a blanket
70 Urinating Technically, not quite a game but practiced often
71 Bocce In teams, throwing the bocce balls closest to the jack ball
72 Pirouetting skirts Swirling the girls' skirts round and round
73 Climbing a tree
74 Swimming A healthy recreational exercise, enjoying a full-body workout
75 Diving Jumping or falling into water is always lots of fun for children
76 Floating with an inflated pig's bladder A sheep's bladder was also used, to float on top of it or to play water games
77 "Dethroning the King" Role play
78 Playing with sand Building castles and digging holes
79 Coil tournament A fight of knights
80 Rattles Noisy musical game


  1. ^ signed at bottom right "BRVEGEL 1560"
  2. ^ G. Arpino & P. Bianconi, L'opera completa di Bruegel, Rizzoli (1967). (Italian)
  3. ^ Cf. Pietro Allegretti, Brueghel, Skira, Milano 2003. ISBN 0-00-001088-X (Italian)

External links

  • at the KHMChildren's Games (German)
  • Bosch Bruegel Society
  • 99 works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
  • Creative Bruegel laid the foundation of the Netherlands School (Russian)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.