Although some of the meanings of the Bruegel proverbs remain unclear to modern audiences, this image conveys a rather more blatant message – it depicts the old Flemish saying: 'T is 't huys geheel verdraeyt, waer t'haentje zwygt en 't hintje kraeyt ('the home is in turmoil when the rooster is silent and the hen crows'). The crowing hen mirrors the wife, while the man (and the rooster beside him) appear to endeavour to ignore her. A monkey – symbolic of vice, lust and general debasement – crouches in the background, ready to cause havoc.
Brueghel the Younger is known to have worked from his father’s drawings and to have made detailed drawings of his father’s works himself, which he and his studio would follow. The Outdoor Wedding Dance, formerly in the Coppée collection, for example, employs a combination of tracing and free-hand drawing.3 Infra-red reflectography reveals that the present composition was indeed also traced (pinprick marks along many of the lines indicate pouncing), with additional underdrawing consistent with that of the Brueghel workshop (fig. 1).
1 See, for example, the engraving in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, inv. no. 46.21(23); see M. Sellink (ed.), Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The New Hollstein, Ouderkerk aan den IJssel 2006, p. 166, cat. no. A7, reproduced p. 170. Klaus Ertz included Wiericx's engraving of this subject for the sake of completion in his monograph on Pieter Brueghel the Younger, but stated that he knew no related works by the artist (see K. Ertz, Brueghel der Jüngere, Lingen 1988/2000, vol. 1, p. 114).
2 Wierix's engraving contains the quatrain: Femme qui tanse sans raison / Ne fait quenuÿ a la maison ('A woman who nags without reason doesn't do anything but make trouble at home'). Around the edge of the roundel is engraved, in Flemish: Een leeckende dack, ende een roockende schouwe, Ja daer de simme aenden heijrt sit en siet, Een craijende hinne, een kijfachtige vrouwe, Is ongheluck in Huijs ja quellinghe en vertriet. ('A leaking roof and a smoking chimney, yes, where the monkey sits at the hearth and looks around. A crowing hen, a scolding woman means bad luck in the house, yes, trouble and grief').
3 Sold London, Sotheby's, 9 July 2014, lot 12, for £1,538,500.
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