Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Cockaigne

by Alexandra Tuschka


That seems to have been one meal too many! Three men are lying on the floor and are no longer good for anything. Their working tools - a lance, a flail and books lie unmotivated next to them on the ground, their clothes are already going out of shape as well as their bodies. Through their attributes, the men distinguish themselves as soldier, peasant and scholar, thus representing the three estates of the Middle Ages, counting the cleric to the scholar. A squire who accompanied the knight opens his mouth in the hope that soon one of the patties will fall from the roof. This also refers to a Dutch proverb, according to which someone who "has patties on the roof" owns everything and does not have to worry about anything.

The basis for this work is a story by Hans Sachs, published in 1546, in which the land of milk and honey is described in verse.  


"...A region is called Cockaigne,

well known to the lazy people;

It lies three miles beyond Christmas.

A man who wants to go there,

"must take the measure of the great thing...

and eat through a mountain of millet porridge;

which is about three miles thick;

then he is in a moment

in the same land of milk and honey.

There he has food and drink at hand;

the houses are covered with pancakes,

with gingerbread doors and shutters.

Around every house there is a fence,

woven from brown sausages..."


Here, Bruegel clearly follows the source text: here, too, a newcomer has eaten his way through a dough in the right edge of the picture; here, too, we find fences made of sausages and patties on the roof. Other dishes are also walking around ready to eat in front of a sea of milk. A pig has already a knife in the back, a goose nestles itself chummily in a plate and an egg with a spoon wants to draw attention likewise on itself to be eaten. Unfortunately unsuccessfully! The utopia of a country, in which one must never work and in which food is available in abundance, seemed in times of the genuine famines like a paradise conception - Bruegel creates with his work however an anti-utopia, which reminds rather of the deadly sin of gluttony. The food intake has left here the healthy measure. 


Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Cockaigne

Oil on wood, c. 1576, 52 x 78 cm , Alte Pinakothek in Munich