Children's Games (Bruegel)

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Children's Games
Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Children’s Games - Google Art Project.jpg
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Children’s Games
ArtistPieter Bruegel the Elder
TypeOil on panel
Dimensions118 cm × 161 cm (46 in × 63 in)
LocationKunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Children's Games is an oil-on-panel by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. It is currently held and exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.


This painting, mentioned for the first time by Karel van Mander in 1604, was acquired in 1594 by Archduke Ernest of Austria. It was suggested that it was the first in a projected series of paintings representing the Ages of Man, in which Children's Games would have stood for Youth. If that was Bruegel's intention, it is unlikely that the series progressed beyond this painting, for there are no contemporary or subsequent mentions of related pictures.[2]

The children, who range in age from toddlers to adolescents, roll hoops, walk on stilts, spin hoops, ride hobby-horses, stage mock tournaments, play leap-frog and blind man's bluff, perform handstands, inflate pigs' bladders and play with dolls and other toys.See details below They have also taken over the large building that dominates the square: it may be a town hall or some other important civic building, in this way emphasizing the moral that the adults who direct civic affairs are as children in the sight of God. This crowded scene is to some extent relieved by the landscape in the top left-hand corner; but even here children are bathing in the river and playing on its banks.

The artist's intention for this work is more serious than simply to compile an illustrated encyclopaedia of children's games, though some eighty particular games have been identified.See details below Bruegel shows the children absorbed in their games with the seriousness displayed by adults in their apparently more important pursuits. His moral is that in the mind of God children's games possess as much significance as the activities of their parents. This idea was a familiar one in contemporary literature: in an anonymous Flemish poem published in Antwerp in 1530 by Jan van Doesborch [nl], mankind is compared to children who are entirely absorbed in their foolish games and concerns.[3]

The games[edit]

Starting from bottom left, the games may be identified as follows:

Number Image Game Notes
01 BRU - CHD 01.jpg Playing with dolls
02 BRU - CHD 02.00.jpg Playing 'Holy Mass' Small liturgical objects used at Mass and Liturgies
03 BRU - CHD 02.jpg Water gun and owl on support Shooting water at a bird
04 BRU - CHD 03 (Maskenspiel).jpg Wearing masks Wearing disguises for fun
05 BRU - CHD 04.jpg Swing The classic hanging seat
06 BRU - CHD 05.jpg Climbing a fence A popular pastime with neighbour's fences
07 BRU - CHD 06 (Handstand).jpg Handstand There are many variations of handstands, but all that matters is balance
08 BRU - CHD 07.jpg Play the "knot" Bending the body to contorted positions
09 BRU - CHD 08.jpg Somersault Flipping and rolling forwards, backwards, or sideways
10 BRU - CHD 09.jpg Fence riding Again, a fence game
11 BRU - CHD 10 (Hochzeitsprozession).jpg Mock wedding It is exactly at the diagonal centre of the panel. Perhaps an irony of the holy sacrament, or a reference to the main event that allows conception of children. Mock child weddings have been common folk tradition many places in Europe, and were often celebrated at Midsummer.
12 BRU - CHD 11.jpg Passing through kicking legs - running the gauntlet Painful but dynamic
13 BRU - CHD 13.jpg Blind Man's Bluff Blind fortune
14 BRU - CHD 14.jpg Playing with birds Ever popular
14b BRU - CHD 14b.jpg Making hats with twigs Basket weaving
15 BRU - CHD 15.jpg Soap bubbles Still a popular pastime, Bruegel shows children blowing bubbles with clay pipes and verifies soap bubbles being used as entertainment for at least 400 years
16 BRU - CHD 16.jpg Shell bobbin A flying spinneret made of nut shells
17 Teetotum Bruegel.gif The "Toton" Forerunner of the roulette and dice games
17b BRU - CHD 17b.jpg Toy animal with leash A stone dog of sorts
18 BRU - CHD 18.jpg Knucklebones Game of very ancient origin, played with five small objects, originally the "knucklebones" (actually the astragalus: a bone in the ankle, or hock) of a sheep, which are thrown up and caught in various ways
19 BRU - CHD 19.jpg Mock baptismal Re-enacting the procession of adults carrying home a baby just baptized. The blue hood symbolises deception ("hooding the husband" meant to cuckold him, as shown in Bruegel's Netherlandish Proverbs).
20 BRU - CHD 20.jpg Morra A hand game - similar to rock, paper, scissors - that dates back thousands of years to ancient Roman and Greek times
21 BRU - CHD 21.jpg Piñata A papier-mâché or other type of container that is decorated, filled with toys and or candy and then broken, usually as part of a ceremony or celebration
22 BRU - CHD 22. (Stelzenlauf).jpg Walk on stilts Walking poles equipped with steps for the feet to stand on, they can be short (like here) or long (see number 62)
23 BRU - CHD 23.jpg Play leapfrog Vaulting over each other's stooped backs
24 BRU - CHD 24.jpg Mock tournaments Competitions of various kind
25 BRU - CHD 25.jpg The "Pope's seat" Holding the child by gripping hands
26 BRU - CHD 26.jpg Hobby-horse Riding a wooden hobby horse made of a straight stick with a small horse's head
27 BRU - CHD 27.jpg Stirring excrements with a stick The best game for children to play.
28 BRU - CHD 28.jpg Playing the flute and the drum Playing simple music with basic instruments, always popular with kids
29 BRU - CHD 29.jpg The simple roll hoop Children and adults around the world have played with hoops, twirling, rolling and throwing them throughout history
30 BRU - CHD 30.jpg Shouting into a barrel from a hole The many uses of a barrel
31 BRU - CHD 31.jpg The hoop with bells A variation of rolling the hoop
32 BRU - CHD 32.jpg Riding the barrel With barrel vaulting, another popular play
33 BRU - CHD 33.jpg Hat throwing Throw them through a child's open legs, or see who throws farthest
34 BRU - CHD 34.jpg Raisinbread man A man-shaped loaf of bread, most likely some sort of Dutch duivekater, offered during wakes or at Christmas
35 BRU - CHD 35.jpg The penalty of "bumbouncing" Bouncing someone's buttocks on planks
Number Image Game Notes
36 BRU - CHD 36.jpg Ball made with an inflated pig's bladder Inflating a pig's bladder to create a balloon
37 BRU - CHD 37.jpg Buck buck[4] A group of children had to create a "pony" and another had to leap on their backs until the weight made it crumble
38 Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. 056.jpg To play shop On the wooden plank below the funnel Bruegel inscribed "BRUEGEL 1560" Red pigment was made from scraping bricks and was most famous from Antwerp.
39 BRU - CHD 39.jpg Playing Tiddlywinks Played with small discs called "winks", a pot, and a collection of squidgers. The children use a "squidger" (a disk) to propel a wink into flight by pressing down on a wink, thereby flicking it into the air: the objective of the game is to score points by sending one's own winks into the pot
39b BRU - CHD 39.jpg Playing Mumblety-peg An old outdoor game played by children using pocketknives
40 BRU - CHD 40.jpg Building (a well) Like sandcastles on a beach, building is ever popular
41 BRU - CHD 41.jpg Pulling hair A game or a fight?
42 BRU - CHD 42.jpg Catching insects with a net Not only butterflies
43 BRU - CHD 43.jpg Playing the scourge Not a safe game
44 BRU - CHD 44.jpg Playing marbles Ancient and still going strong nowadays
45 BRU - CHD 45.jpg Pitch and toss The players each take a coin and take turns tossing them towards the wall: the coin the closest to the wall wins
45b BRU - CHD 45b.jpg Twirling a hat on a stick Clowns do it regularly
46 BRU - CHD 46.jpg Making a procession Popular among children and adults, in diverse applications
47 BRU - CHD 47.jpg Playing the porter or goalkeeper?
48 BRU - CHD 48.jpg Who's got the ball? Hiding the ball and guessing who has it
49 BRU - CHD 49.jpg Riding piggyback Still going strong, riding on someone's shoulders
50 BRU - CHD 50.jpg Singing door-to-door Especially now at Christmas, with carols
51 BRU - CHD 51.jpg Bonfire Lighting a fire, a dangerous but ever-practiced activity
52 BRU - CHD 52.jpg Riding a broom A variation of hobby-horse, but with many players
53 BRU - CHD 53.jpg Pushing a wall good for exercising muscles
54 BRU - CHD 54.jpg Hide-and-seek Or "hide and go seek", a game in which a number of players conceal themselves in the environment, to be found by one or more seekers
55 BRU - CHD 55.jpg The "devil's tail" or the "snake" Role play as a street game
56 BRU - CHD 56.jpg Grappling A basic form of wrestling
57 BRU - CHD 57.jpg The "devil chained" Role play as a street game
58 BRU - CHD 58.jpg Run, jump on a cellar's door Noisy and unsafe
59 BRU - CHD 59.jpg Bowling Players attempt to score points by rolling a ball along a flat surface, either into pins or to get close to a target ball
60 BRU - CHD 60.jpg The token Running and handing off the baton to the next runner
61 BRU - CHD 61.jpg Throwing walnuts Perhaps a variation of bowling or bocce, hitting an assembled cluster of nuts
62 BRU - CHD 62.jpg High stilts Walking on long poles
63 BRU - CHD 63.jpg Pole vaulting Exercising on a horizontally fixed bar
64 BRU - CHD 64.jpg Balancing a stick on a finger A clownish game of balance
65 BRU - CHD 65.jpg Put up a show Enacting a play
66 BRU - CHD 66.jpg Spinning tops Using toys that can be spun on an axis, balancing on a point
67 BRU - CHD 67.jpg The trolleys Baskets moving on a line
68 BRU - CHD 68.jpg Flying a ribbon on a stick Letting a piece of cloth fly in the wind from a stick
69 BRU - CHD 69.jpg Whom shall I choose? A girl selects her "baby" from a group of friends under a blanket
70 BRU - CHD 70.jpg Urinating Technically, not quite a game but practiced often
71 BRU - CHD 71.jpg Bocce In teams, throwing the bocce balls closest to the jack ball
72 BRU - CHD 72.jpg Pirouetting skirts Swirling the girls' skirts round and round
73 BRU - CHD 73.jpg Climbing a tree
74 BRU - CHD 74.jpg Swimming A healthy recreational exercise, enjoying a full-body workout
75 BRU - CHD 75.jpg Diving Jumping or falling into water is always fun for children
76 BRU - CHD 76.jpg Floating with an inflated pig's bladder A sheep's bladder was also used, to float on top of it or to play water games
77 BRU - CHD 77.jpg "Dethroning the King" Role play
78 BRU - CHD 78.jpg Playing with sand Building castles and digging holes
79 BRU - CHD 79.jpg Coil tournament A fight of knights
80 BRU - CHD 60.jpg Rattles Noisy musical game


  1. ^ signed at bottom right "BRVEGEL 1560"
  2. ^ G. Arpino & P. Bianconi, L'opera completa di Bruegel, Rizzoli (1967). (in Italian)
  3. ^ Cf. Pietro Allegretti, Brueghel, Skira, Milano 2003. ISBN 0-00-001088-X (in Italian)
  4. ^ Rice, Irvin. "Traditional games". Retrieved 6 January 2017.

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