Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525 - 1569): Netherlandish

2/4/2021, 3:02:43 PM
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525 - 1569): Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559, oil on canvas, 117 x 163 cm (46 x 64.1 in), Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museum, Berlin 'Netherlandish Proverbs' by Pieter Bruegel well deserves to be praised for its ordered portrayal and integrated composition. There are approximately 112 identifiable proverbs and idioms in the scene, although Bruegel may have included others which cannot be determined. Some of those incorporated in the painting are still in popular use, for instance "Swimming against the tide", "Banging one's head against a brick wall" and "Armed to the teeth", and there are some that are familiar if not identical to the modern English usage such as "casting roses before swine". Many more have faded from use or have never been used in English. "Having one's roof tiled with tarts", for example, which meant to have an abundance of everything and was an image Bruegel would later feature in his painting of the idyllic Land of Cockaigne (1567). The Blue Cloak, the piece's original title, features in the centre of the piece and is being placed on a man by his wife, indicating that she is cuckolding him. Other proverbs indicate human foolishness. A man fills in a pond after his calf has died. Just above the central figure of the blue-cloaked man another man carries daylight in a basket. Some of the figures seem to represent more than one figure of speech (whether this was Bruegel's intention or not is unknown), such as the man shearing a sheep in the centre bottom left of the picture. He is sitting next to a man shearing a pig, so represents the expression "One shears sheep and one shears pigs", meaning that one has the advantage over the other, but may also represent the advice "Shear them but don't skin them", meaning make the most of available assets.

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