In the foreground, a man carrying a carpenter’s saw is followed by a women wrapped in a big blue coat, sitting on a donkey. The image is of Joseph and Mary who have come to Bethlehem to register themselves on the census ordered by Emperor Augustus (Luke 2:1-5). This biblical event is associated with paying taxes. The scene is set in a snowy Brabant village, which brings together /spiritual and temporal considerations. The landscape juxtaposes a ruined building (paganism?) on the right, with the church situated on the other bank (Christianity?) thus linking past and present. The plague house, isolated on the edge of the water, reinforces the collective message of faith.

Text: Museum of Ancient Art. A Selection of Works, Brussels, 2001, p. 92 © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels


  • Title: The Census at Bethlehem
  • Creator: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
  • Date Created: 1566
  • support: Oak
  • Provenance: Aquired at the Edmond Huybrechts sale, Anvers, 12-15 mai 1902, n° 3 (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, inv. 3637)
  • Physical Dimensions: 115,5 x 163,5 cm
  • Type: Painting (panel)
  • Rights: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

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