The blind leading the blind. Oil painting after Pieter Bruegel.

  • Bruegel, Pieter, approximately 1525-1569.
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The blind leading the blind. Oil painting after Pieter Bruegel. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). Source: Wellcome Collection.

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About this work


Christ's parable, Matthew XV:14 "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch". The eye conditions have been identified with disease-names as follows: (left to right) pemphigoid, (not identifiable), phthisis bulbi, corneal leucoma, enucleation. For discussion as to whether such medical matters are compatible with the spiritual theme of the painting, see Richter, loc. cit.

"An extraordinary representation of six blind men in movement; it can even be seen as a Duchamp-like study of the tentative movements of one blind man as he walks, hurries, runs, begins to fall and finally collapses helplessly into the ditch" (Lorne Campbell, The Burlington magazine, June 2019, vol. 161, p. 501)

Physical description

1 painting : oil on canvas ; canvas 95.5 x 151 cm


Wellcome Collection 44699i

References note

F. Grossmann, Bruegel: the paintings, London 1955, nos. 147-151 (the painting in Naples, with analysis of the composition)
Erwin Richter, 'Die Pathologie bei Pieter Breughel d. A.', Forschungsfragen unserer Zeit, 1958, 5, Lief. 4, 131-134
Heinke Sudhoff, Ikonographische Untersuchungen zur 'Blindenheilung' und zum 'Blindensturz': ein Beitrag zu Pieter Bruegels Neapler Gemal̈de von 1568, PhD Inaugural-Dissertation, Bonn 1981 (Philosophische Fakultät der Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität)
Amy Orrock, Bruegel: defining a dynasty, London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2017, pp. 35-38 ("The composition was copied faithfully at least four times early in the seventeenth century. One of these copies, in London's Wellcome Collection, is arguably the closest to Bruegel's original, with a similar colour palette of blue-grey figures against a verdant background and the same bare section of ground in the left foreground where other versions have vegetation")

Creator/production credits

Probably a 17th-century copy of the picture painted by Pieter Bruegel in 1568 and now in the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples. Many of his compositions were repeated throughout the 16th and 17th centuries by his son Pieter Brueghel and other painters, though "The blind leading the blind" was copied relatively seldom, perhaps because it had left Flanders for Italy too early for Pieter Brueghel to copy: it was in Parma by 1611, in which year it was confiscated by the Farnese (Grossmann, loc. cit.). Other copies are in the Musée du Louvre and the Fürstlich Liechtenstein'sche Gemälde-Galerie, in addition to those which have been offered for sale by auction

Exhibitions note

Exhibited in "Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty" at The Holburne Museum, Bath, 11 Februaury - 4 June 2017
Exhibited in "Medicine Man" at Wellcome Collection, London, 12 June 2007 - 2012; 3 September 2013 - 2 February 2017
Exhibited in "Medicine through the artist's eye: pictures from the Wellcome Institute" at the Science Museum, London 1978

Ownership note

Purchased from Robinson and Fisher, 5 June 1919, lot 176 for £78 15s (75 guineas)

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