Money Wars

The Battle about Money, after 1570
Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, active by 1551, died 1569)
Engraving; second state of four; 9 1/4 x 12 in. (23.6 x 30.4 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.40)

“The unprecedented, and somewhat enigmatic, iconography of this image derives from the fertile imagination of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who executed the original drawing after which this was engraved. Strongboxes, piggy banks, money bags, barrels of coins, and treasure chests—most of them heavily armed with swords, knives, and lances—attack each other in a ferocious display of chaotic, all-out warfare. The Dutch verses inscribed in the lower margin inform us that “It’s all for money and goods, this fighting and quarreling.” According to the Latin portion of the inscription, the banner with the “savage grappling hook” in the right background exemplifies greed, the vice at the root of all this trouble. The image seems to suggest that humanity’s lust for money is responsible for armed conflict.

The concerns for the dangers of acquisitiveness and avarice expressed here had deep resonance in Antwerp, the bustling mercantile capital of Northern Europe where Bruegel was active for most of his career. Though inscribed “P. Bruegel” in the lower right corner, the engraving was probably not published until several years after the artist’s death in 1569. The accompanying inscription “Aux quatre Vents,” referring to the house At the Four Winds, through which many of Bruegel’s images were published, is found only on prints issued after 1570.”

“Battle About Money”
Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of Drawings and Prints

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