In this essay, I analyze three sixteenth-century Netherlandish paintings of New Testament miraculous healings in the context of the contemporary understanding of miracles and approaches to disability. I argue that, in contrast to the negative perception of the infirm in the early modern literature, the images promote care for the sick as a Christian duty. Given the complicated theological status of miracles ca. 1600, scriptural healings begin to function primarily as exempla of mercy rather than as promises of supernatural intervention. In the discussed compositions, biblical stories become a model for sixteenth-century viewers through the rhetorical use of architectural backdrops, which replicate a strategy employed in the vernacular theatre and urban festivals. Finally, I show that this connection between miraculous healings and mercy is also established in the iconography of visiting the sick, in which broadly defined medical care is introduced as a manifestation of charity.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Religious Art for the Urban Community is the first book-length study focusing on religious paintings by one of the most captivating Netherlandish artists, long celebrated for his secular imagery. In a period marked by a profound religious, economic, and cultural transformation, Bruegel offered his sophisticated urban audience complex biblical images that required an engaged, active viewing, not only sparking learned dinner conversations, but facilitating the negotiation of values seen as critical to maintaining a harmonious society. By considering the novelty of Bruegel’s panels used in convivia alongside his small, intimate grisaille compositions, this study ultimately shows that Bruegel renewed the idiom of religious painting, successfully preserving its ritualistic and meditative functions.