Up Close and Personal: Netherlandish Proverbs

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Inspired by the Google Cultural Institute’s virtual Bruegel exhibit, we decided to take a look at one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s most detailed paintings: Netherlandish Proverbs in the Gemaldegalerie.

As someone whose mom learned English as a third language and whose family often speaks in languages that I don’t understand, I’ve found that proverbs are almost always lost in translation. That’s what makes this painting so amazing. Some of these proverbs don’t even exist in Dutch anymore, so to us English-speakers the painting is extra whacky. So wacky, in fact, that I couldn’t even find the proverbs for all of the tiny weird stuff I found thanks to Google’s gigapixels. Since my guess is as good as any, my guess is all you’re gonna get.


Don’t rest on your laurels. I’ll explain: Groot’s less athletic brother is made out of a laurel tree and he’s really unhappy that the guy is resting on him. Brother-Groot is too nice to say anything about it (plus he can only say “I am Groot” so it wouldn’t help much), but clearly it’s ruining his whole day.


Talking with two mouths. When people do that annoying thing where they ask a question just to answer it. “So I went to the grocery store that was really far away. And why? Because they have better produce.” Such a waste of air.


Not proverbs, just warnings about the Illuminati.


Don’t count your eggs before they hatch. Because they might walk away and even as you stand there begging, they’ll leave you. Life is unfair sometimes.


The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. This guy spent all this time making the perfect pancake and then spilled the rest of his batter. Now only one person gets a pancake, which isn’t even enough for a meal. Everyone knows that once it’s smothered in syrup, all that matters is that the pancake is fully cooked. Why are you so worried that it’s a perfect circle?

Feel free to explore the painting yourself and find even more fun proverbs!

By: Maya

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Maya Jacobson


Comments (1)


the second illuminati one is actually a proverb! it's 'een oogje in het zeil houden' (keeping an eye on the sail). it means keeping an eye on things