Haymaking, Pieter Breughel the Elder, 1565
The most important of the Lobkowiczes’ Northern pictures is Pieter Breughel the Elder's Haymaking. Painted in 1565 to hang in the dining room of the Antwerp merchant Niclaes Jongelink, this picture was originally part of a series of six panels, each presumed to represent two months of the year – in this case June and July.
In 1594 all six panels were given by the city of Antwerp to Archduke Ernst, Governor of the Netherlands. It is believed that the whole series was selected by Rudolph II at the division of his younger brother's estate in 1595. By 1659 only five panels are listed in the Vienna inventory of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614-62). It is not known if by that date Haymaking had already left the Imperial Collections, nor is it known when the Lobkowicz family acquired it, though it is first recorded as in their possession in 1870. (Three other panels hang in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and one in New York’s Metropolitan Museum; the location of the last remains unknown).
This panel is exceptionally well preserved, and represents a pinnacle of Western art. For the first time in Western art, landscape is no longer just a backdrop or a setting for biblical subjects. Instead, it appears in its own right. Here it is shown as the place in which the common man and woman go about their ordinary lives – following the natural cycle of the seasons that determine their everyday existence. The peasants, in what was then a totally rural and non-industrialized world, are shown as being in a pre-ordained and inescapable communion with nature. As such, Brueghel elevates their hard and mundane lives to something that is heroic, yet idyllic.
This painting is on permanent display at the Lobkowicz Palace Museum in Prague.