/ The (Great) Tower of Babel ‘ 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
The Tower of Babel was the subject of three paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This image a miniature painted on ivory, was painted while Bruegel was in Rome and is now lost. The two surviving paintings, often distinguished by the prefix "Great" and "Little", are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam respectively. Both are oil paintings on wood panels.
The Rotterdam painting is about half the size of the Vienna one. In broad terms they have exactly the same composition, but at a detailed level everything is different, whether in the architecture of the tower or in the sky and the landscape around the tower. The Vienna version has a group in the foreground, with the main figure presumably Nimrod, who was believed to have ordered the construction of the tower, although the Bible does not actually say this. In Vienna the tower rises at the edge of a large city, but the Rotterdam tower is in open countryside.
The paintings depict the construction of the Tower of Babel, which, according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible, was built by a unified, monolingual humanity as a mark of their achievement.
Bruegel's depiction of the architecture of the tower, with its numerous arches and other examples of Roman engineering, is deliberately reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum, which Christians of the time saw as a symbol of both hubris and persecution. Bruegel had visited Rome in 1552–1553. Back in Antwerp, he may have refreshed his memory of Rome with a series of engravings of the principal landmarks of the city made by the publisher of his own prints.
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