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Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Dutch Proverbs

by Sylvi Weidlich

"The Dutch Proverbs" challenges us from the very beginning: almost like a search picture, we are looking at a village in which it is like an upside-down world and extremely strange things are happening.

Our eyes seem to wander along an axis from the front left edge of the picture to the top right. The attempt to follow the image axis throughout fails: a roof paved with pancakes distracts. Using a broom from the roof hatch from one side, armed with a long stick from the other, it almost seems as if the pancakes are being rounded up. But how did they get on the roof in the first place? In a moment, it seems, the delicacies will slide down as well. "There the roof is covered with pancakes" - a life in abundance - is just one of over 100 proverbs that Pieter Brueghel the Elder imaginatively and humorously accommodates.

In the center of the picture, under a blue pavilion roof, the devil is hearing confessions, secrets confided in silence are passed on to the enemy; as a sign of adultery, a young woman in a red dress throws a blue cloak over her husband.

On the right edge of the picture, precious porridge, also known to us as spilled milk, spills out of an overturned head and is laboriously and unsuccessfully spooned back into the pot, while on a long wooden board a man with outstretched arms tries to grab two loaves of bread at the same time instead of choosing one.

While in the river the big fish eat the small ones, a fisherman fishes not with the net but behind it, missing his opportunity for a filling supper. Stuck in half a globe, one seems to be looking for his way to go through the world, while behind him a well is filled up, into which a calf has fallen. Bitingly and humorously Brueghel takes many a character trait of his contemporaries on the grain, knowing that it goes with the head through the wall just rarely to the goal.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Dutch Proverbs

Oil on wood, 1559, 74.5 x 98.4 cm, Gemäldegalerie in Berlin


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