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Children's Games is an oil-on-panel by Flemish Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. It is currently held and exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Children's Games
Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Children’s Games - Google Art Project.jpg
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Children’s Games
ArtistPieter Bruegel the Elder
TypeOil on panel
Dimensions118 cm × 161 cm (46 in × 63 in)
LocationKunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna



This painting, mentioned for the first time by Karel van Mander in 1604, was acquired in 1594 by Archduke Ernest of Austria. It has been suggested that it was the first in a projected series of paintings representing the Ages of Man, in which Children's Games would have stood for Youth. If that was Bruegel's intention, it is unlikely that the series progressed beyond this painting, for there are no contemporary or subsequent mentions of related pictures.[2]

The children, who range in age from toddlers to adolescents, roll hoops, walk on stilts, spin hoops, ride hobby-horses, stage mock tournaments, play leap-frog and blind man's bluff, perform handstands, inflate pigs' bladders and play with dolls and other toys.See details below They have also taken over the large building that dominates the square: it may be a town hall or some other important civic building, in this way emphasizing the moral that the adults who direct civic affairs are as children in the sight of God. This crowded scene is to some extent relieved by the landscape in the top left-hand corner; but even here children are bathing in the river and playing on its banks.

The artist's intention for this work is more serious than simply to compile an illustrated encyclopaedia of children's games, though some eighty particular games have been identified.See details below Bruegel shows the children absorbed in their games with the seriousness displayed by adults in their apparently more important pursuits. His moral is that in the mind of God children's games possess as much significance as the activities of their parents. This idea was a familiar one in contemporary literature: in an anonymous Flemish poem published in Antwerp in 1530 by Jan van Doesborch [nl], mankind is compared to children who are entirely absorbed in their foolish games and concerns.[3]

The gamesEdit

Starting from bottom left, the games may be identified as follows:

Number Image Game Notes
01   Playing with dolls
02   Playing 'Holy Mass' Small liturgical objects used at Mass and Liturgies
03   Water gun and owl on support Shooting water at a bird
04   Wearing masks Wearing disguises for fun
05   Swing The classic hanging seat
06   Climbing a fence A popular pastime with neighbour's fences
07   Handstand There are many variations of handstands, but all that matters is balance
08   Play the "knot" Bending the body to contorted positions
09   Somersault Flipping and rolling forwards, backwards, or sideways
10   Fence riding Again, a fence game
11   Mock wedding It is exactly at the diagonal centre of the panel. Perhaps an irony of the holy sacrament, or a reference to the main event that allows conception of children. Mock child weddings have been common folk tradition many places in Europe, and were often celebrated at Midsummer.
12   Passing through kicking legs - running the gauntlet Painful but dynamic
13   Blind Man's Bluff Blind fortune
14   Playing with birds Ever popular
14b   Making hats with twigs Basket weaving
15   Soap bubbles Still a popular pastime, Bruegel shows children blowing bubbles with clay pipes and verifies soap bubbles being used as entertainment for at least 400 years
16   Shell bobbin A flying spinneret made of nut shells
17   The "Toton" Forerunner of the roulette and dice games
17b   Toy animal with leash A stone dog of sorts
18   Knucklebones Game of very ancient origin, played with five small objects, originally the "knucklebones" (actually the astragalus: a bone in the ankle, or hock) of a sheep, which are thrown up and caught in various ways
19   Mock baptismal Re-enacting the procession of adults carrying home a baby just baptized. The blue hood symbolises deception ("hooding the husband" meant to cuckold him, as shown in Bruegel's Netherlandish Proverbs).
20   Morra A hand game - similar to rock, paper, scissors - that dates back thousands of years to ancient Roman and Greek times
21   Piñata A papier-mâché or other type of container that is decorated, filled with toys and or candy and then broken, usually as part of a ceremony or celebration
22   Walk on stilts Walking poles equipped with steps for the feet to stand on, they can be short (like here) or long (see number 62)
23   Play leapfrog Vaulting over each other's stooped backs
24   Mock tournaments Competitions of various kind
25   The "Pope's seat" Holding the child by gripping hands
26   Hobby-horse Riding a wooden hobby horse made of a straight stick with a small horse's head
27   Stirring excrements with a stick Not a healthy game
28   Playing the flute and the drum Playing simple music with basic instruments, always popular with kids
29   The simple roll hoop Children and adults around the world have played with hoops, twirling, rolling and throwing them throughout history
30   Shouting into a barrel from a hole The many uses of a barrel
31   The hoop with bells A variation of rolling the hoop
32   Riding the barrel With barrel vaulting, another popular play
33   Hat throwing Throw them through a child's open legs, or see who throws farthest
34   Raisinbread man A man-shaped loaf of bread, most likely some sort of Dutch duivekater, offered during wakes or at Christmas
35   The penalty of "bumbouncing" Bouncing someone's buttocks on planks
Number Image Game Notes
36   Ball made with an inflated pig's bladder Inflating a pig's bladder to create a balloon
37   Buck buck[4] A group of children had to create a "pony" and another had to leap on their backs until the weight made it crumble
38   To play shop On the wooden plank below the funnel Bruegel inscribed "BRUEGEL 1560" Red pigment was made from scraping bricks and was most famous from Antwerp.
39   Playing Tiddlywinks Played with small discs called "winks", a pot, and a collection of squidgers. The children use a "squidger" (a disk) to propel a wink into flight by pressing down on a wink, thereby flicking it into the air: the objective of the game is to score points by sending one's own winks into the pot
39b   Playing Mumblety-peg An old outdoor game played by children using pocketknives
40   Building (a well) Like sandcastles on a beach, building is ever popular
41   Pulling hair A game or a fight?
42   Catching insects with a net Not only butterflies
43   Playing the scourge Not a safe game
44   Playing marbles Ancient and still going strong nowadays
45   Pitch and toss The players each take a coin and take turns tossing them towards the wall: the coin the closest to the wall wins
45b   Twirling a hat on a stick Clowns do it regularly
46   Making a procession Popular among children and adults, in diverse applications
47   Playing the porter or goalkeeper?
48   Who's got the ball? Hiding the ball and guessing who has it
49   Riding piggyback Still going strong, riding on someone's shoulders
50   Singing door-to-door Especially now at Christmas, with carols
51   Bonfire Lighting a fire, a dangerous but ever-practiced activity
52   Riding a broom A variation of hobby-horse, but with many players
53   Pushing a wall good for exercising muscles
54   Hide-and-seek Or "hide and go seek", a game in which a number of players conceal themselves in the environment, to be found by one or more seekers
55   The "devil's tail" or the "snake" Role play as a street game
56   Grappling A basic form of wrestling
57   The "devil chained" Role play as a street game
58   Run, jump on a cellar's door Noisy and unsafe
59   Bowling Players attempt to score points by rolling a ball along a flat surface, either into pins or to get close to a target ball
60   The token Running and handing off the baton to the next runner
61   Throwing walnuts Perhaps a variation of bowling or bocce, hitting an assembled cluster of nuts
62   High stilts Walking on long poles
63   Pole vaulting Exercising on a horizontally fixed bar
64   Balancing a stick on a finger A clownish game of balance
65   Put up a show Enacting a play
66   Spinning tops Using toys that can be spun on an axis, balancing on a point
67   The trolleys Baskets moving on a line
68   Flying a ribbon on a stick Letting a piece of cloth fly in the wind from a stick
69   Whom shall I choose? A girl selects her "baby" from a group of friends under a blanket
70   Urinating Technically, not quite a game but practiced often
71   Bocce In teams, throwing the bocce balls closest to the jack ball
72   Pirouetting skirts Swirling the girls' skirts round and round
73   Climbing a tree
74   Swimming A healthy recreational exercise, enjoying a full-body workout
75   Diving Jumping or falling into water is always lots of fun for children
76   Floating with an inflated pig's bladder A sheep's bladder was also used, to float on top of it or to play water games
77   "Dethroning the King" Role play
78   Playing with sand Building castles and digging holes
79   Coil tournament A fight of knights
80   Rattles Noisy musical game


  1. ^ signed at bottom right "BRVEGEL 1560"
  2. ^ G. Arpino & P. Bianconi, L'opera completa di Bruegel, Rizzoli (1967). ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  3. ^ Cf. Pietro Allegretti, Brueghel, Skira, Milano 2003. ISBN 0-00-001088-X ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  4. ^ Rice, Irvin. "Traditional games". Retrieved 6 January 2017.

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