Pieter Brueghel the Elder: Netherlandish Proverbs 1559

Form:  This is a realistic yet cartoonish rendering.  In general the rules of perspective are adhered to and there is some chiaroscuro.  Each object and individual are clearly rendered using the glazing techniques that Van Eyck perfected nearly a century before, however, the carefully glazed rendering of the surfaces and objects are secondary to the message.Iconography and Context:  The iconography relates to the Northern habit of creating and using parables.  A parable is a kind of adage which Webster's dictionary describes as a "saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation."
This painting contains nearly more than twenty proverbs and each is designed to provide some sort of moral direction in visual form.  This painting probably served two purposes.  The visual depiction of proverbs as symbols was probably created both as a form of instruction but also as a clever conversation piece.
Below is a diagram that identifies some of the proverbs in the painting.


1. Daar zijn de daken met vladen gedekt.
There the roofs are tiled with tarts!
The image is one connoting a plentitude or a state of wealth.2. Daar steekt de bezem uit.
There the broom sticks out.
This signifies that the head of the household is not at home which in turn indicates that a party is in progress or soon will be.
3. Onder het mes zitten.
Sitting under the knife.
A severe testing under great pressure.
4. 't is naar het vallen van de kaart.
It depends on the fall of the cards.
So much of life is a matter of luck.
5. Een pilaarbijter.
A pillar biter.
A religious hypocrite.
6. Zij draagt water in de eene, en vuur in de andere hand.
She carries water in one hand and fire in the other.
Someone who is two-faced.
7. Men kan met het hoofd niet door den muur loopen.
One cannot walk headfirst through a wall.
A man foolishly trying to ignore the hard realities of the natural world.
8. De een scheert de schapen, de ander de varkens.
The one shears the sheep, the other the pigs.
In life some individuals have opportunities for material success while others do not.

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