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Hanging at the Gemäldegalerie art museum in Berlin, Germany, is an unusual painting. Measuring 64 inches by 46 inches, this 16th century oil-on-oak-panel painting is populated by a swarm of miniature men, women, children and animals performing a range of extraordinary and bizarre acts—two men defecating out of a window, a man biting into a wooden pillar, another man banging his head against a wall, a man burying a calf, a man attempting to scoop up spilled porridge, and a woman tying into a bundle what appears to be the devil.

This odd artwork was made by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who was one of the most significant Dutch artist of the Renaissance. Titled Netherlandish Proverbs, the painting is actually a literal illustration of more than one hundred Dutch language proverbs and idioms. The painting was original called, “The Blue Cloak” or “The Folly of the World”, indicating that Bruegel intended not just to illustrate proverbs, but rather to illustrate the universal stupidity of man. Many of the proverbs featured focus on the absurdity of human behavior. Other more serious ones illustrate the dangers of folly, which leads to sin.


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