This 450-year-old detailed masterpiece by Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel seems like an ordinary painting, but if you look closer you will see that it’s actually filled with proverbs. No wonder that this oil on wood painting is also known as The Dutch Proverbs.
Some of the Dutch proverbs are quite similar to their American English counterparts, so you might even be able to guess specific proverbs just by looking at the painting.
The Netherlandish Proverbs. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 1559. Oil on wood. 163 x 117 cm. Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again. (Don’t cry over spilt milk.)
It is ill to swim against the current. (An uphill battle.)
To put a spoke in someone’s wheel. (To throw a wrench in someone’s plans.)
She puts the blue cloak on her husband. (She cheats on, or deceives, her husband.)
Sitting on hot coals. (To be impatient.)
To have the roof tiled with tarts. (To be very wealthy).
To bang one’s head against a brick wall.
To lead each other by the nose. (To fool each other.)
Two fools under one hood. (Stupidity loves company.)
They both crap through the same hole. (Bosom buddies.)
It depends on the fall of the cards. (Let the chips falls where they may.)
To hang one’s cloak according to the wind. (To adapt one’s viewpoint to the current opinion.)
If the blind lead the blind, both will fall in the ditch. (The blind leading the blind.)
To sit between two stools in the ashes. (To be indecisive.)
To be pissing against the moon. (To be pissing into the wind.)
To have the world spinning on one’s thumb. (To have the world in the palm of your hand.)
To crap on the world. (To despise everything.)
The whole world is upside down.
Two dogs over one bone seldom agree. (To argue uselessly over a single point).
To be able to tie even the devil to a pillow. (Perseverance overcomes everything.)
A pillar-biter. (A religious hypocrite.)
One shears sheep, the other shears pigs. (One has all the advantages, the other has none.)
Move like your a** is on fire!
To try to kill two flies with one stroke. (To kill two birds with one stone.)
Horse droppings are not figs. (Appearances are deceiving.)