Deconstruction of the Tower of Babel Reading the Painting of the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel through the Lens of Derrida

Document Type : Research Article


Ph.D. in Art Research, Faculty Member of Department of Graphic and Painting, School of Art, Architecture and Urbanism, Kerman Branch, Islamic Azad University, Kerman, Iran.


Problem statement: There is a consensus in the history of art that Peter Bruegel’s works are allegorical reflecting contradictory semantic implications. Bruegel’s the Tower of Babel, while being a visual representation of the mythological-religious narrative of the painting, has multiple and contradictory readings. Jacques Derrida, one of the poststructuralist theorists, has analyzed this narrative using a deconstructive approach and in contrast with the philosophical tradition of the originality and unity of meaning.
Research method: Using Derrida’s poststructuralist approach, this study attempts to examine the different aspects of the Tower of Babel Bruegel in its historical context. To this purpose, we analyzed and interpreted the existing documents and sources using structural analysis.
Research objective: This study aims to provide a polyphonic and fluid interpretation in line with the developments of contemporary criticism and aesthetics. By rejecting the definite meaning of the work, this research seeks to answer these questions: What is the relationship between the painting structure of the Tower of Babel and extra-textual factors? What semantic aspects do emerge in the deconstructive critique of the work? How does the interpretive reading of the work relate to the orientation of contemporary criticism?
Conclsion: By revealing multiple contradictions and layers of meaning, deconstructive critique of the work shows that painting is at the same time a metaphorical image of the failure, inability, and decline of the political power of the contemporary government in the time of the painter in the historical context. At the same time, it reflects a positive embodiment of the construction of a utopia developed by human activity and effort aligned with the cultural and social context of the work. By rejecting holistic and absolute interpretations, the polyphonic interpretation can be considered as a manifestation of the pluralistic nature of contemporary critical action in the field of art.


Bowen, K. L., & Imhof, D. (2008). Christopher Plantin and Engraved Book Illustrations in Sixteenth-Century Europe. Cambridge: University Press.
Cahoone, L. (2013). From Modernism to Postmodernism (10th ed.). (A. Rashidian, Trans.).Tehran: Ney.
Catholic Online World’s Catholic Library. (n.d.). Retrieved  May 9, 2021 from
Derrida, J. (1982). Writing and Difference (L’écriture et la différence), (A. Rashidian, Trans.). Tehran: Ney.
Derrida, J. (1985). Des Tours de Babel. In J. F. Graham (Ed., Trans.), Difference in Translation (pp. 165-207). Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Gibson, W. S. (1981). Artists and Rederijkers in the Age of Bruegel. The Art Bulletin63(3), 426-446.
Grossmann, F. (1996). Bruegel: The Paintings. Phaidon: London.
More, T. (2005). Utopia. The Project Gutenberg eBook. Retrieved from https://
Morra, J. (2007). Utopia Lost Allegory, Ruins and Pieter Bruegel’s Towers of Babel. Art History30(2), 198-216.
Narusevicius, V. (2013). Labour as Utopia in Bruegel’s Towers of Babel. Wreck, 30(2), 30-45. Retrieved from https://
Pettegree, A. (2002). Europe in the Sixteenth Century. Oxford: Blackwell.
Williams, J. (2018). Understanding Poststructuralism (M.J. Seydi, Trans.). Tehran: Nimaj.