Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Elck or Everyman, a drawing

Flanders, AD 1558

Elck in Dutch means 'each' or 'everyone' and the scenes in this 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.'

This is one of many moral drawings (and paintings) by Pieter Bruegel. Here, he condemns the selfish pursuit of worldly goods but he also shows, through the picture of the fool, a way of conquering this vice. Only through self-knowledge can Elck free himself from the world's vanities.

This drawing, in pen and brown ink, is partly indented for transfer to a plate for an engraving. It was commissioned by the Antwerp publisher Hieronymous Cock (around 1510-70), and probably engraved by Pieter van der Heyden.

Find in the collection online

More information


W.S. Gibson, Bruegel (Thames and Hudson, 1997)

H. Mielke, Pieter Bruegel, Die Zeichnunge (Brepols, Turnhout, 1998)

J.O. Hand (ed.), The age of Bruegel: Netherland (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC & Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1986, 1987)


Height: 209.000 mm
Width: 292.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1854-6-28-36 (Popham 3)



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore