Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Tower of Babel (1563). From Art to Architecture





Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the art of time, the art of place, the Bible, Northern Renaissance, Flanders


Aim. This paper examines the meaning of The Tower of Babel (1563), Pieter Bruegel’s painting, as a physical, cultural, social, and architectural herald of the modern skyscraper. The interpretation generated will form the background for a contemporary analogy to the modern skyscrapers. These large-scale aesthetic structures, form the sensation of an unnerving lack of space and does not correspond with the existing urban outline. Similar to the tower at the painting, that is a symbol of the lack of connection between nations and peoples, the skyscraper follows in the footsteps of its predecessor that symbolized the confounding of the languages.

Methods. Four theoretical approaches will be utilized: (a) Examining the place of the painting within common approaches to the biblical text, based on familiar examples; (b) Converting the biblical story into a painting; (c) Analyzing and evaluating the painting from an aesthetic perspective; (d) In order to overcome the alienation and lack of community we shall utilize the phenomenological notion of place and space, which opens a path to architectural experiencing that promises to connect the individual to the environment, the world, and the community.

Results. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s approach to the biblical story and its artistic portrayal teaches us that The Contemporary Torah (2006, Genesis 11:1-9) is a timeless and universal story that illustrates human pretense, a lack of adequate self-evaluation, arrogance, and stupidity.

Conclusion. The artist understood all this very well and possessed the originality and the daring to represent it even in contradiction of contemporary conventions.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

  • Ruth Dorot, School of Architecture, Ariel University, 65 Ramat Hagolan, Ariel 40700, Israel

    Dr. Ruth Dorot is a lecturer in art history at Ariel University – Israel, and is involved in various enrichment programs for the general public. She has served as curator of exhibitions, is a member of the Ministry of Culture's National Committee for the Evaluation of Museums and sits on the editorial board of several professional journals. She is the author of books: The Art of Time, The Art of Place as well as Symbolic Allusion, Temporal Illusion. Ruth is the recipient of the Israel Efrat Award from Bar Ilan University.

  • Edna Langenthal, School of Architecture, Ariel University, 65 Ramat Hagolan, Ariel 40700, Israel

    Ph.D. Arch. Edna Langenthal is the Dean of the School of Architecture at Ariel University. She is the co-chief editor of Architext, a peer-reviewed bilingual (Hebrew/English) architectural journal, with Arch. Itzik Alhadif. She is the author of numerous articles published in major periodicals. Her latest book Question of Place: Architecture between the Poetic and the Ethical (the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Magnes Press, 2021), offers a new understanding of the elements of architectural practice with exposure to phenomenological thought. Her areas of specialization are ethical and poetic architecture, especially Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas. Her research and her teaching combine philosophical and ethical questions, emphasizing the connection between the field of architecture and ethical phenomenology.


Barasch, M. (1986). Mavo l'omanut harenaissance [Introduction to the Art of the Renaissance] Mossad Bialik.

Barzel, H. (1990). Drachim baparshanut hachadasha [New Interpretations of Literary Texts] Bar-Ilan University Publication.

Bruegel, P. (1560). Children’s games [oil on wood]. Wikimedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Les_jeux_d%27enfants_Pieter_Bruegel_l%27Ancien.jpg

Bruegel, P. (1563). The Tower of Babel [oil on wood]. Wikimedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kunsthistorisches_Museum_Wien,_Pieter_Bruegel_d.%C3%84.,_der_Turmbau_zu_Babel.JPG

Bruegel, P. (1568). The blind leading the blind [oil on wood]. Wikimedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_blind_leading_the_blind._Oil_painting_after_Pieter_Bruegel_Wellcome_V0017252.jpg

Bruegel, P. (1599). Netherlandish Proverbs [oil on wood]. Wikimedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder,_Netherlandish_Proverbs,_1559,_Gemaldegalerie,_Berlin_%282%29_%2840204298851%29.jpg

Caroll, D. M. (2008). Painting and Politics in Northern Europe: Van Eyck, Bruegel, Rubens, and their Contemporaries. Penn State University Press.

Dorot, R. (2013). Galut ve'hitgalut [Exile and Revelation] Even Hoshen.

Heidegger, M. (1971). “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, ( A. Hofstadter, Trans) Harper and Row.

Janson, H. W. (1970). History of Art. Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated.

Kaminska, B. A. (2014). Come, let us make a city and a tower: Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel and the creation of a Harmonious Community in Antwerp. Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art, 6(2), 1-24.

Koenraad, J. (2014). An allegory of artistic choice in times of trouble: Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel. Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 64(1), 186-212.

Lessing Gotthold, E. (1983). Laocoon o al gevulei hashira vehaziur [ Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry ( D.Aran, Trans). Sifriat Poalim, Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publication.

Levinas, E. (1979). Totality and Infinity, (A. Lingis, Trans) The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Mansbach, S. A. (1982). Pieter Bruegel's Towers of Babel. Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 45, 43-56.

Ofrat, G. (1986). Hamedium Haomanuti [The Artistic Medium.] Stavit Publication.

Pevsner. N. (1958). An Outline of European Architecture, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 23.

Roberts, K. (1976). Bruegel [Bruegel] (M. Tal, Trans) Revivim Publication.

The Contemporary Torah. (2006). The Jewish Publication Society. https://www.sefaria.org.il/Genesis.11.1?lang=en&aliyot=0

Vytas, N. (2013). The Labours of Translation: Towards Utopian Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, Wreck, 4(1), 30-45.

Wölfflin, H. (1962) Musagey yessod betoldot haomanut [Principles of Art History] ( N. Ben Ami, Trans) Mosad Bialik.




How to Cite

Dorot, R., & Langenthal, E. (2023). Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Tower of Babel (1563). From Art to Architecture . Journal of Education Culture and Society, 14(2), 380-400. https://doi.org/10.15503/jecs2023.2.380.400