Netherlandish Proverbs in Action

What are you doing you massive weirdo

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This bizarre little carving adorns the choir screen at the Church of Saint Bavo in Haarlem (not to be confused with Saint Bavo Cathedral, also in Haarlem). I thought it was just an artist’s whimsy. Nope! There’s more meaning than that.

After the church, we went to the Frans Hals Museum. One of the non-Frans Hals (and non-pickled-herring-related) things we saw there was this painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. It was a copy of his father’s work, Netherlandish Proverbs.

28019-Pieter Brueghel-Spreekwoorden


There are about a billion different adages illustrated in the painting (check the Wikipedia page). The bit we’re interested is down in the lower left. Comparing it to the toothy fellow up top chewing on the church, we can see that he is a “pillar biter,” or religious hypocrite. Probably not a concept you’d see showcased in a Catholic church at the time, but certainly in a Protestant one.

Looking at that list, I’m pretty amused by “the herring does not fry here,” meaning “this is not going according to plan.” And “He who eats fire, craps sparks” is so much more evocative than simply “playing with fire.” Which is your favorite?

Pickled Herring

By Judith Leyster -, Public Domain,
By Judith Leyster –, Public Domain,

During my trip to Amsterdam, Zed and I visited the Frans Hals Museum in the nearby town of Haarlem. (Haarlem, by the way, super cute place.) This painting is not by Hals, but was originally attributed to him. It’s by Judith Leyster, a contemporary. The audio tour had this kind of adorable drinking song playing in the background for this painting.

It’s about how pickled herring is so good and salty and makes you drink a lot. So a few days later we had to get some.

The Dutchiest of lunches: pickled herring.

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It was pretty damn good.

Escher in Het Palais

[image: escher's staircase inspiration]
[image: escher’s staircase inspiration]

During my vacation in the Netherlands, we took a day trip to the Hague to go see (among other things) Escher in Het Palais. I loved seeing the art and the actual woodcut blocks he used and learning more about the artist. Usually I go for the older stuff (gosh I love Renaissance artwork of Catholic saints), but Escher’s use of impossibility, you can’t not love it. One of the things that I found really cool (and I guess was a fairly new fact, given that the article I’m about to link only came out last year) was that the staircases he drew in Relativity were inspired by the staircases in a school he attended in Arnhem as a teen. He hated the school, but was obsessed by its very, very weird staircase.

[image: escher's staircase inspiration]
[image: escher’s staircase inspiration]

Even if it didn’t hold a bunch of great art, Het Palais is a gorgeous building. Every room had a different bizarre chandelier. They were amazing! These were my favorites:

[image: skull & crossbones chandelier]
[image: skull & crossbones chandelier]

Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp

Yes, I’m still talking about the Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum has good information. They’ve got a free audioguide app for your phone (and free wifi in the museum for downloading it), or you can get a physical guide there if you’ve forgotten your headphones or whatever. There are also placards hanging alongside the artwork with information (not just the name or the work and artist). And then, as a third option, in case you didn’t have enough, they have large laminated sheets (like 11x17s, except whatever size is equivalent in Europe) with details about the most famous works in the room—pointing out the minutia you might otherwise miss.

So, the Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp. What did the Rijksmuseum think was one of the most important aspects of this work to focus on?


Rijks Studio

(I haven’t been skiing since 1993, but obviously this is what I’ll be wearing on the slopes next time.)

The Rijksmuseum’s website has this neat feature where you can create an account and save really high-res images of their collection. Well, I say it’s neat, but I’ve spent a few hours this afternoon trying to recreate the gallery I made yesterday (and since there were 6500 images in the main tag I had been using—”fashion plate”—it’s taken a while). I think what happened is that I duplicated a few images going through the first time, and then when I tried delete one of the images, it deleted both? I’m not sure. It’s damn annoying, is what it is.

Anyway, it’s pretty much made redundant a lot of photos I took on my trip. But it’s for the better, since my Shaky Hands ™ did not take as clear images as theirs.

In addition to being able to save albums full of cool things, they also encourage you to use their images to make stuff. I doubt I’ll be doing that, but it’s a nice feature.

You can see my collections here! So far I’ve just got two, one for fabulous fashion, the other for works of art featuring saints and their attributes (because I am me, and that is the sort of thing I love). I’m still working on them, because as I mentioned earlier… 6500 images, and that’s before I get start searching for more saint stuff.