The Mead’s The Peasant Feast print is a first state of the sixth of a series of twelve plates showing landscapes with village scenes. The series are based on preliminary drawings by Hans Bol, four of them are known. They were published by the renowned owner of the successful and influential publishing house Aux Quatre Vents, Hieronymus Cock, in 1562 in Antwerp.
This etching belongs to a series showing views with village scenes based on preliminary drawings by Hans Bol, a prolific Flemish landscape painter and draftsman and a contemporary of Peter Breughel the Elder (1525–30/1569).
Hieronymus Cock, who printed the works in his successful and influential publishing house, Aux Quatre Vents, in Antwerp, commissioned Johannes the Elder and Lucas Doetechum to etch the plates. The brothers were famous for their innovative method of etching that mimicked engraving by way of multiple biting and the use of a special etching needle called an “échoppe.”
Stylistically a mannerist rendering of the subject, the genre scene swirls with motion. The print depicts a traditional church feast in a Flemish village. The typical activities of this celebration, called “kermis,” included heavy drinking, eating, playing games, and dancing, but also engaging in activities beyond the moral restrictions of the day. Peasants making merry, chatting, arguing, and suffering from overindulgence in food and drink populate the scene in the left foreground. Running dogs, loose chickens, and wandering pigs enhance the realistic portrayal of the feast. To the right a horse-drawn carriage is dashing down the hill toward the village church. The monumental tree in the center of the picture restores stability to the overly joyous atmosphere and gives way to a distant view of the Flemish countryside.
Bol likely depicted elements from his own surroundings in Mechelen when he came to design the scene. The river may be the Dyle, or Dilje, which also flows through Antwerp, and the octagonal tower in the Gothic building compound is most likely the Tower of the Minor Seminary of Mechelen.