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Tarts on the Roof and Other Truths

For Wolfgang Mieder, professor of German and Russian and one of the world’s premier proverb scholars, bringing Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s painting “The Netherlandish Proverbs” to UVM’s Fleming Museum is the dream of a lifetime. The work on display is a copy created by Brueghel the Younger of the 1559 original painted by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It is an intricately detailed depiction of a wild slice of 16th century village life with proverbial expressions on display that range from the sacred to the scatological. Mieder’s dream, and the proverb symposium connected with it, began to come together when the professor and Fleming Museum Director Janie Cohen connected with Mrs. Adele Klapper, who generously loaned the painting, which is part of the personal collection she built together with her late husband, Herbert J. Klapper.

A sampling of the roughly 115 proverbial expressions in the painting follows. Visit the Fleming through June 6 for a look at the real thing, and check the web — www.flemingmuseum.org — for details on proverb symposium events.

1 “Tarts grow on the roof.” Not an expression we hear much in 21st century American culture, but the phrase colorfully describes a household that has all it needs and more.

2 This appears to be a two-for-one special, with the soldier in armor and the gray tabby illustrating the difficulties of “belling the cat” and the excess of being a bit over prepared for a task or “armed to the teeth.”

3 Pity the man who spends centuries as the poster child for banging one’s head against the proverbial brick wall.

4 The pig is stuck through the belly, what’s done is done.

5 As they say, “Two dogs on one bone can hardly ever come to an agreement.” Brueghel the Younger made more than 20 copies of this particular painting, and he sometimes added his own embellishments to dad’s original. Much as he went his own way by inserting an h into the family name, Brueghel the Younger painted a pair of spotted dogs where Bruegel the Elder had one white and one black. Professor Mieder notes the dogs are one sure indication whether you’re looking at the 1559 original or a 1610 copy.