Netherlandish Proverbs (1559)

Bruegel the Elder, Pieter (c.1525-1569)

Netherlandish Proverbs
Oil on oak panel, 117.2 x 163.8 cm

SHELFMARK / INSCRIPTION: Reference lower right: BRVEGEL • 1559

The picture brings together 100 proverbs and places them in surroundings that are as real as the people’s behaviour, revealed in terse and apposite form by the wise sayings. The individual scenes are played out side by side, without being directly dependent on each other. A village near the sea provides a spacious stage for the apparently everyday tasks of its inhabitants. The background for all the varied activity is made up of a farmhouse, dilapidated huts, a stone bridge with pillory and tower, the village square at the centre of the activity and a farmstead among cornfields near the wood. In the distance is the open sea, shining in the sun of a late summer’s day. The painting’s old title, The Upside-Down World, derives from the symbol of a globe standing on its head. This is intended to illustrate that we are in a world in which nothing is as it should be. The wise sayings are evidence of man’s folly and sinfulness in a crazy world that has turned away from God. This proverb picture is evidence of Bruegel‘s intense pre-occupation with the spiritual and moral questions of his time, which give the work its timeless validity. Rainald Grosshans (Gemäldegalerie)