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  • by Janet St. John

Art & Soul Short #34

The Harvesters. Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda (?) ca. 1525–1569 Brussels). 1565. Oil on wood. Overall, including added strips at top, bottom, and right, 46 7/8 x 63 3/4 in. (119 x 162 cm); original painted surface 45 7/8 x 62 7/8 in. (116.5 x 159.5 cm).

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Right now, they are eating loaves of the grain they gathered and cut, tilted and tied, bundled and stacked. The land is an ocean of industry. Labor of human hands. Someone’s vision of abundance. Seasons cycle around the nourishment they burn off under sun, through stubborn exertion. Seed of spring. Stalk of summer. Full crop for autumn harvest. All flowing from plot and plant, till and toil, brown to green to yellow. Sun rises. Sun slides behind horizon’s eyelid at each day’s end. They are weary of hand-to-mouth awareness. Hunger pains. Calluses. Aching joints. Permanently angled backs. The time it takes one man’s skin to turn leather equals the crooked shift of one woman’s hands to knuckle-locked, from kneading each meal into a form worthy of consumption. They are resting now. But one-quarter field will not satisfy the one who owns the land, the land that owns them. And they have only begun to harvest.

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