The Census at Bethlehem

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The Census at Bethlehem
Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Census at Bethlehem - WGA03379.jpg
Artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Year 1566[1]
Type Oil on panel
Dimensions 116 cm × 164.5 cm (46 in × 64.8 in)
Location Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

The Census at Bethlehem (also known as The Numbering at Bethlehem) is an oil-on-panel by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1566. Acquired in 1902, it is currently held and exhibited at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.


Detail of Mary and Joseph
Detail of ruined castle

As often before, Bruegel treats a biblical story as a contemporary event. And once again, reference to particular political events has been adduced - in this case, the severity of the Spanish administration in the southern Netherlands.[2] However, Bruegel may well be making a more general criticism of bureaucratic methods.[3]

The events depicted are described in Luke 2, 1-5:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered... So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.

— Luke 2:1-5, NKJV[4]

This is a rare subject in previous Netherlandish art. The ruined castle in the backgroundsee 2nd detail is based on the towers and gates of Amsterdam.[5]


  1. ^ Signed "BRVEGEL 1566"
  2. ^ Under Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, the Netherlands region was part of the Seventeen Provinces, which also included most of present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and some land in France and Germany.
  3. ^ Cf. Pietro Allegretti. Brueghel. Milan:Skira, 2003. ISBN 0-00-001088-X (Italian)
  4. ^ From online Luke 2
  5. ^ Cf. Max Seidel, Roger H. Marijnissen. Bruegel. Pt.2, Random House, 1985. ISBN 0-517-44772-X


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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