Pieter Bruegel the Elder's dizzying details
This painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1526/30-1569) depicts the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).
Noah's descendants constructed this tower to get as close as possible to the heavens and God. However, God saw this work as a sign of vanity. To punish them, he made the builders speak different languages, so that they could no longer communicate.
In this painting, Bruegel does not focus so much on the biblical tale as on the construction of the tower. He clearly shows thousands of people toiling away.
Beside the tower, Bruegel depicts a bustling port where boats have just finished unloading their cargo of building materials.
This must have been a very familiar scene for Bruegel who lived for many years in Antwerp and watched it develop in the 16th century into one of the most important port cities in Western Europe.
Construction at the top of the tower is in full swing, the tower has already broken through the clouds.
The new bricks are still bright red. Due to the lengthy construction process, the bricks of the lower levels already have a grey tinge.
We can make out a system of corridors up high, but no more lodgings seem to be under construction suggesting that this system is only being used to build higher.
The biblical tower was probably inspired by the by the great Babylon "ziggurat".
At the top of the enormous complex, with a square base thought to measure 91 meters and a total height of 91 meters, was a temple reached by steps and a ramp running the length of the façade.
This construction had long disappeared by the 16th century, but descriptions had been kept from which Bruegel got his architectural inspiration.
Bruegel painted several versions of The Tower of Babel.
This version puts particular emphasis on the construction process. The tower takes up nearly the whole scene, with virtually no reference being made to the biblical tale.
Bruegel worked in great detail; this painting depicts more than 1,000 characters.