Object Image

Temperance (Temperantia) from The Virtues

Bruegel’s design for Temperance depicts a maelstrom of human activity collapsed into an impossible space. Figures crowd the print in clusters of activity that bleed into one another, from choir singers accompanied by a small orchestra to actors performing for a rapt audience to cosmographers futilely attempting to measure a smoke-billowing, swiftly rotating earth. Groups of surveyors occupy the rightmost edge of the image, gauging fortifications and artillery, while in the foreground students furiously read and transcribe texts, and lenders busily settle their accounts. Anything but temperate, the image juxtaposes the central figure—a personification of temperance and the virtue upon which the study of the liberal arts was supposed to be based—with the chaotic reality of human experience.

Credit: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926

c. 1559-60
Engraving; first state of two
24.4 x 31.2cm
Image and text © Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Permanent collection