Twelve Proverbs, painted around 1560, is not actually a painting; it consists of 12 small round panels that were originally wooden plates or platters painted by Bruegel. The idea was that they would be arranged on a dresser for decoration and amusement. Soon afterwards they were brought together, framed and the texts of the different proverbs added.
Proverbs were a source of worldly wisdom in Bruegel’s day, and representations of them feature in many of his paintings. Their presence is an indication of Bruegel’s desire to capture on canvas the wisdom and daily routines of the Flemish people of his time. These panels illustrate proverbs such as: ‘No matter what I attempt, I never succeed; I always piss against the moon (‘bark at the moon’, as we’d put it).
‘He who works to no avail, throws roses to the pigs (or, casts pearls before swine).
‘I am touchy and contrary, so I bang my head...