Home / Funny / Viral / 450-Year-Old Painting Made Out Of Hundreds Of Proverbs We Still Use Today


Don't put all your eggs in one basket; strike when the iron is hot; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. These are some of the sayings we know and use from time to time. These ironic and amusing proverbs play a significant role when it comes to literature and language.

Playing with language in literature, conversation, and art has been a hallmark of different cultures for centuries. Some artists used language as an inspiration for their next art piece. Dutch master, Pieter Bruegel, was inspired by a proverb or two to create this piece of art 450 years ago. Also known as The Dutch Proverbs, this oil on wood painting is a detailed masterpiece that visually represents over 100 Dutch proverbs.

Bruegel has been known for his elaborately detailed work. At first glance, the oil painting might seem like a simple village scene with a wide cast of characters. However, the detail with word-play lays much deeper than that. The Dutch Proverbs reach far and wide, and some are still used around the world today, while others have fallen out of usage.

The fascinating painting is an elaborate treasure hunt. Figures are acting out multiple proverb phrases and, to make it more detailed, they are even given significance to colour.

For instance, in the case of the woman dressed in red at the centre of the painting, it's impossible to read the proverb without understanding the colour symbols. Back when the piece was painted in 1559, red was the colour of sin. At the same time, the blue cloak she's draping over her husband tells the other half of the tale. Blue often stood for cheating or folly. This gives us more information to understand that the woman isn't simply handing over her husband's coat. Instead, she's cheating on him.

With Bruegel's creativity and imagination, it's incredible to think of how he managed to fit so much into one artwork.

Some of the slogans in the painting include, To bang one's head against a brick wall (to achieve the impossible):

One shears sheep, the other shears pigs (One has all the advantages, the other has none):

It depends on the fall of the cards. (Let the chips falls where they may):

Two fools under one hood (Stupidity loves company):

If the blind lead the blind, both will fall in the ditch (The blind leading the blind):

It is ill to swim against the current (An uphill battle):

He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again (Don't cry over spilt milk):

Sitting on hot coals (To be impatient):

To hang one's cloak according to the wind (To adapt one's viewpoint to the current opinion):

To be able to tie even the devil to a pillow (Perseverance overcomes everything):

To have the roof tiled with tarts (To be very wealthy):

Other proverbs hidden within the painting include: 

  • A pillar-biter (A religious hypocrite)
  • To lead each other by the nose (To fool each other)
  • To have the world spinning on one's thumb (To have the world in the palm of your hand)
  • To put a spoke in someone's wheel (To throw a wrench in someone's plans)
  • To try to kill two flies with one stroke (To kill two birds with one stone)


Can you spot any others?

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