Tag Archives: Allegorical Paintings

#FineArtFriday: The Dutch Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, revisited

Pieter_Brueghel_the_Elder_-_The_Dutch_Proverbs_-_Google_Art_ProjectOne of the best allegorical paintings of all time is The Netherlandish Proverbs (also known as The Dutch Proverbs) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, which was painted in 1559. A master at humor, allegory, and pointing out the follies of humanity, Brueghel the Elder is one of my favorite artists.

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Year: 1559
Medium: Oil-on-panel
Dimensions: 117 cm × 163 cm (46 in × 64 in)
Location: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Quote from Wikipedia:

Critics have praised the composition for its ordered portrayal and integrated scene. There are approximately 112 identifiable proverbs and idioms in the scene, although Bruegel may have included others which cannot be determined because of the language change. 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”. Many more have faded from use, which makes analysis of the painting harder. “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.

You can find all of the wonderful proverbs on the painting’s page on Wikipedia, along with the thumbnail that depicts the proverb.

My favorite proverbs in this wonderful allegory?

Horse droppings are not figs. It meant we should not be fooled by appearances.

He who eats fire, craps sparks. It meant we shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome if we attempt a dangerous venture.

Now THAT is wisdom!

Credits and Attributions:

The Netherlandish Proverbs (Also known as The Dutch Proverbs) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder 1559 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “Netherlandish Proverbs,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Netherlandish_Proverbs&oldid=829168138  (accessed May 3, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Hope by George Frederic Watts 1886

Title: Hope, by George Frederic Watts

Date: 1886

Genre: allegory

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions Height: 142.2 cm (55.9 in); Width: 111.8 cm (44 in)

Collection:  Tate Britain

Notes: Presented by George Frederic Watts 1897

What I love about this painting:

This painting strikes home with me. Hope is blindfolded, battered, dressed in rags, and cast adrift in the universe. She clings to a lyre upon which only one string remains—yet Hope turns her head to hear the sound of that one string. The lone star in the sky is nearly invisible, yet it is there, deliberately placed. Watts’s choice of symbols for this allegory and the stark layout of the composition combine to create a powerful idea—Hope makes music with one string when nothing else remains.

About this painting (via Wikipedia):

Hope is a Symbolist oil painting by the English painter George Frederic Watts, who completed the first two versions in 1886. Radically different from previous treatments of the subject, it shows a lone blindfolded female figure sitting on a globe, playing a lyre that has only a single string remaining. The background is almost blank, its only visible feature a single star. Watts intentionally used symbolism not traditionally associated with hope to make the painting’s meaning ambiguous. While his use of colour in Hope was greatly admired, at the time of its exhibition many critics disliked the painting. Hope proved popular with the Aesthetic Movement, who considered beauty the primary purpose of art and were unconcerned by the ambiguity of its message. Reproductions in platinotype, and later cheap carbon prints, soon began to be sold.

Although Watts received many offers to buy the painting, he had agreed to donate his most important works to the nation and felt it would be inappropriate not to include Hope. Consequently, later in 1886 Watts and his assistant Cecil Schott painted a second version. On its completion Watts sold the original and donated the copy to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum); thus, this second version is better known than the original. He painted at least two further versions for private sale.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

George Frederic Watts OM RA (23 February 1817, in London – 1 July 1904) was a British painter and sculptor associated with the Symbolist movement. He said “I paint ideas, not things.” Watts became famous in his lifetime for his allegorical works, such as Hope and Love and Life. These paintings were intended to form part of an epic symbolic cycle called the “House of Life”, in which the emotions and aspirations of life would all be represented in a universal symbolic language.

Credits and Attributions:

Hope, by George Frederic Watts 1885. Wikipedia contributors, “Hope (painting),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hope_(painting)&oldid=946584185 (accessed March 27, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Hope (painting),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hope_(painting)&oldid=946584185 (accessed March 27, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “George Frederic Watts,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=George_Frederic_Watts&oldid=947120342 (accessed March 27, 2020).


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