de jonckheere old masters

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Pair of proverbs : The fat peasant and the pedlar and A man sitting in front of a barrel and eating

Panels: 18 cm n diameter


This amusing pair of paintings features a theme that is very particular to the painting of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, i.e. sinnekins, more commonly known as proverbs. The term sinneke was used to describe paintings and engravings that drew their inspiration from the popular theatre of the day. Viewers therefore had no difficulty in identifying and understanding them. They featured popular expressions transposed into rural life. These two splendid tondi – a true anthology of Brueghel's small circular paintings – remarkably illustrate the morality of the era.

In our first tondo, two characters are pictured sitting on a bench in front of a house. There is a fat peasant on the left and a pedlar on the right who is trying to sell his wares – flutes, Jew's harps and nets are displayed in a wicker basket on his knees. The pedlar is practically being pushed off the bench by the peasant who is taking up all the space on the elongated seat. Even the wall of the house offers him no support as it ends behind the peasant's back. A magnificent view of a Flemish 16th century town, where the inhabitants are busy going about their daily business, opens out in the background. According to Klaus Ertz, the scene in the small painting illustrating the proverb Any haberdasher will promote his own wares or Deceit returns to its master, was invented by Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself. The art historian bases his analysis on a drawing with a very similar composition to that of our tondo and on the fact that several variations of the same subject show a certain variety in the landscape. In Ertz's opinion, the origins of Pieter Brueghel the Younger's inspiration can be found in a drawing dated 1573 by an anonymous artist. Two characters sitting on a bench are indeed placed in the same position as the one in Brueghel's tondo. An engraving, done by Hieronymus Wiericx certainly contributed to the subject's distribution. The engraver added a text in the tondo (A. Voicy des rets trôpes et fleutes; Telle denrée oncques vous neutes. / B. Va ten mercier va ten d’icy; Ven ailleurs ta denrée aussi.) and another around the frame so that the proverb's message was even clearer. The dialogue warns viewers not to be drawn into dubious affairs. In this painting, there are also several elements that help the viewer to correctly interpret the message like, for instance, the nets and flutes that allude to fraud and deceiving clients. In addition, the man on the left is wearing two hats, which probably refers to his limited intellect. It is interesting to note that the peasant on the left in our tondo resembles another character in a larger composition by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

The second, meticulously executed painting in this precious pair of proverbs portrays A man sitting in front of a barrel and eating. Behind him, an old man sticks his head and his hand out of a window. The two characters are looking into the distance, at a point beyond the painting. Behind the scene illustrated in the foreground, the daily life of a town's inhabitants is portrayed. The proverb's message remains shrouded in mystery. According to Klaus Ertz, it isn't simply an allegory of taste but a deeper message - the presence of both the old man and the much younger man relates to the passage of time and the fleetingness of human life. The proverb is also known by another name - The man who cuts wood and meat with the same knife.

Provenance :
Private collection.