Paintings are reflections of the world. Dutch painter Pieter Brueghel observed the world that he lived in the 16th century, and described what he saw in his works. He drew people of his time, such as farmers, intellectuals and soldiers, as well as Dutch landscapes, descriptions of Dutch proverbs and stories of the Bible to deliver morals.
This painting depicts six blind men walking side by side in a line, against a background of a church far behind. The blind man leading the other five men upfront falls into a ditch, which makes the second man fall as well. The third man, who is holding on to the cane held by the person in front of him, has nearly lost his balance, while the three men in the back, who do not yet notice the trouble that has occurred, seem to follow the same fate.
The painting depicts the story of the Matthews 15:14 of the Bible. When the Pharisees, disapproving the teachings of Jesus, mock him, Jesus says to his disciples: Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
The meaning of “blind” is not literal in this context, it refers to those who can see but fail to understand. The parable is used to describe the disadvantages of a foolish leader and stresses the importance of the leader’s role. It also teaches the lesson that we should not be foolish to see but fail to understand, recognize but fail to act. The painting is inspiring because the message of the artist 450 years ago is still intact today.
The painting was finished a year before Brueghel passed away, which was the darkest times of the Netherlands. It was a grim age when the Dutch rebel forces, who fought for the independence of the country under the rule of Philip II of Spain, and the Protestants were arrested or executed in droves. Before his death, Brueghel asked for several of his paintings to be burned, out of fear that his painting would be viewed as incendiary and cause harm to his family.