Brightly colored genre scenes, as in "Dancing Peasants Outside a Village" are typical of works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. His training began around 1579 with his grandmother as a tutor. A miniaturist painter, Mayken Verhulst seems to have given him a life-long interest in finely detailed figures (Myers, 1969). The USC Fisher Museum of Art’s painting is an example of a miniature inspired technique, as evident in the tiny figures, small clothes and faces and the sharply constructed village scene in the background. Details of this type are different in technique and meaning from the bold genre scenes of his father, Pieter, the Elder (c. 1529 – 1569). After studying with his grandmother, Pieter was sent to Antwerp where he was the pupil of Gillis van Coninxloo. Evidently, the panoramic views of the mountains or river valleys, which typified the Flemish Mannerist style of Coninxloo, did not influence Pieter as most of his outdoor scenes have limited perspectives (Phaidon, 1978) As Pieter further developed as an artist, he was named to the Guild of St. Luke and thereafter began teaching. His son, Pieter the third (1589 – 1608), and Franz Snyders (1579 – 1657) were among his students.
[…] Northern European peasants dancing in a circle, as in this scene, often allude to a Maypole dance. The celebration of spring was a frequent subject of Brueghel’s genre scenes. In this painting, however, the narrative focuses on a bagpipe player who stands against the central tree. The brilliant colors and festive air of "Dancing Peasants Outside a Village" are characteristic of the Brueghel family tradition, interpreted here on a miniature scale.
Excerpted from "Masterworks from the 16th & 17th Centuries" catalog. Entry by David W. White. (Los Angeles: USC Fisher Museum of Art, 1987), 8.
Myers, Bernard S. "McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Art and Artists," New York, 1969, volume 1, pg 20.
Phaidon Encyclopedia of Art and Artists, New York, 1978, p. 87.