Everyman

Having finished the Everyman crossword in this morning’s Observer, I was reading a review of some books about Pieter Bruegel in the Times Literary Supplement where I found mention of a piece by that artist also called Everyman.

Here is the work, an ink drawing on paper, of dimensions 20.9cm by 29.2 cm made in Antwerp in 1558 and currently in the British Museum.

According to the catalogue, the work is called Elck in Dutch, which means ‘each’ or ‘everyone’, but is usually known in English as ‘Everyman’.

The scenes in the drawing illustrate proverbs or sayings. The central proverb concerns Elck who vainly seeks himself in the objects of this world as he stands over a broken globe. With a lantern he searches through a pile of barrels and bales, a game board, cards and objects which signify the distractions of life.

To the right, two more Elck figures play tug of war with a rope, illustrating the saying, ‘each tugs for the longest end’.

In the background on a wall hangs a picture which continues the moral theme. It shows a fool sitting among a pile of broken household objects gazing at himself in a mirror. He is Nemo or Nobody, as the inscription below him informs us: ‘Nobody knows himself.

To me it seems that Elck is searching (no doubt in vain) for something worth keeping in the junkyard of human existence. Perhaps he should perhaps have a go at a crossword to cheer himself up?

One Response to “Everyman”

  1. I hope that I can make it to the Pieter Brueghel exhibition in Vienna.

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