Pieter I Bruegel - Justice (1559)


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Hieronymus Cock (1517/18-1570) Bruegel’s publisher, commissioned the artist to create this pen and ink drawing, executed in meticulous detail, for a series of prints called The Seven Virtues (1559-1560). Cock had already published a series called The Seven Deadly Sins* - also designed by Breugel - in the previous year. Breugel used a very linear technique for this drawing, which produces a clarity that allowed the engraver to transfer the image without difficulty. At the bottom, a space has been left open for a Latin saying intended for the print: ‘The aim of law is either to correct him who is punished, or to improve the others by his example, or to provide that the population live more securely by removing wrongdoers’.

The picture is centred around a personification of Justice: a woman, blindfolded and holding the attributes by which we can recognise her: a sword and a set of scales. In the many other scenes, justice is administered and, as the quote implies, some criminals are not spared. Although the setting and the clothing match those familiar in Breugel’s day, the various methods of torture and execution seen here were intended to improve morals rather than represent reality.

* The Prints Department also has a preparatory sketch for this series: Luxuria (inv. S.II 132816).

This drawing was studied for the AGORA Drawings on Web project.


Bibliographic description

Materials, technique and dimensions: pen and brown ink, 225 x 295 mm

Inventory number: S.II 133707

Full description



Count Antoine-François Andréossy, Paris and Montauban (1761-1828); his heirs; their sale, Paris,13-16 April 1864, lot 227; Wilhelm Koller, Vienna (d. 1864); his sale, Vienna, 5 February 1872 and following days; Adalbert von Lanna, Prague (1838-1900); his sale, Stuttgart (Gutekunst), 6-11 May 1910


Selective bibliography

R. Van Bastelaer & G. Hulin de Loo, Peter Brueghel l’Ancien, son œuvre et son temps, Brussels  1907, cat. 87; K. Tolnai, Die Zeichnungen Pieter Bruegels, Munich 1925, cat. 43; Ch. De Tolnay, The Drawings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, with a Critical Catalogue. Translation and revision of 1925, London 1952, cat. 61; L. Münz, Pieter Bruegel. The Drawings, London 1961, cat. 146; R.H. Marijnissen et al., Bruegel. Tout l’œuvre peint et dessiné, Anvers 1988, cat. 124; H. Mielke, Pieter Bruegel. Die Zeichnungen, Turnhout 1996, cat. 79; M. Sellink, Bruegel. The complete paintings drawings and prints, Antwerp 2007, cat. 83; New Hollstein Dutch (Pieter Bruegel the Elder), sub nr. 16



Trésors de la Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, Brussels (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique) 1958, cat. 75; Le siècle de Bruegel. La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siècle, Brussels (Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium) 1963, cat. 277; Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. als Zeichner. Herkunft und Nachfolge, Berlin (Kupferstichkabinett) 1975, cat. 71; Bibliothèque royale de Belgique. 150e anniversaire de l'ouverture au public, 21 mai 1839. 150 pièces remarquables choisies dans ses collections, Brussels (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique) 1989, cat. 105 ; The world of Bruegel in black and white from the collection of the Royal Library of Belgium, Tokyo (The Bunkamura Museum of Art), Niigata (Niigata City Art Museum) & Kyoto (Museum Eki Kyoto) 2010, cat. 50; Hieronymus Cock. The Renaissance in print, Louvain (Museum M) & Paris (Institut Néerlandais) 2013, cat. 58