The work The Census of Bethlehem depicts the arrival of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem on the eve of the birth of baby Jesus, just as it is told in the Gospel according to St. Luke 2:1-5.
As such, in this representation there is an interest in depicting Joseph and Mary reaching Bethlehem and approaching the inn, recognizable by the two crowns that hang on the façade, the site where the census is being carried out. The Sacred Family is located at the center of the composition and can be identified by the figure covered with a blue cloak who rides on a donkey, just as the Virgin traditionally appears in this type of representation, in addition to the masculine figure, Joseph, carrying tools -and who is, besides, very evidently carrying a saw here- walking ahead, guiding the nag and the ox who walks alongside.
In a broad snow-covered landscape, a Flemish village is seen in the midst of great activity. To the left through the door of the inn, a group of people can be seen busy slaughtering pigs, an activity that goes on outside; there, a man and a woman are bleeding one of them. To one side, in a series of straw huts, a hatchet and other appropriate utensils can be seen. Two children observe the scene, one inflates a bladder. Toward the center of the composition there are several carts covered by the snow and a path along which several figures approach. Beyond this animated foreground, there are figures in the middle ground who entertain themselves playing with snowballs, in the center there is a woman with a broom, and to the right, a rundown shack with a small garden along one of its sides. A figure dressed in a cape, head covered with a large hat, broad and flat, takes care of the plants. Behind, in a doorway, a group wearing similar hats who could be identified as gypsies give the landscape an exotic accent. Finally, in the background to the left, a village is situated on the opposite shore of a frozen river that extends toward the horizon, flanked by trees. On the other side stands a large house, in front of which a large group is gathered around a big fire, and close by, to the right, a large tree that bears an insignia like a swan serves to call together another group. Further on, some men are building a house whose skeleton is clearly visible. The large house itself marks where a series of constructions begins, which culminate further to the right in a group of buildings among which a castle with its frozen moat can be discerned. Small figures are active in the different scenes that this snow-covered landscape depicts, where the steep roofs of the houses and the leafless trees with birds here or there on their branches stand out. All these groups complete the active environment of a Flemish village in winter. Playing in the snow or on the frozen ponds, rivers and canals constituted a motive for celebration for the inhabitants, who enjoyed the possibilities of different activities that the season had to offer.


  • Title: The Census of Bethlehem
  • Creator: Pieter Brueghel II
  • Physical Dimensions: 117.5 x 167.5 cm
  • Medium: Oil on wood panel

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