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The Big Fish Eat the Little Fish. Two men and a child in a boat in foreground, one of the men pointing to an enormous fish behind them, the stomach of which is being cut open by another man to reveal a great number of fish that it has eaten; more fish spill from its mouth; various other fish, both in the water and walking on land, in the process of eating fish smaller than themselves; first state with address of Hieronymus Cock; after Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 1557
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Height: 228 millimetres
Width: 294 millimetres
- Curator's comments
This is first state, for an impression of fourth state see also 1866,0407.12.
The preparatory drawing is in the Albertina, Vienna, inv.no.7875 (signed by Bruegel and dated 1556). The scene primarily illustrates the Flemish proverb "Big fish eat little fish," though in the subsiduiary vignettes, it also illustrates other related proverbs such as "Little fish lure the big". Cock probably subsituted Bosch's name for Bruegel's in the printed image for commercial reasons.
Literature: M. Ilsink, in J. van Grieken - G. Luijten - J. van der Stock, "Hieronymus Cock: The Renaissance in Print", exh.cat. Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels and Fondation Custodia in Paris, New Haven and London, 2013, cat.no.67.
'Hieronymus Bosch', Big fish eat little fish
This engraving was published by Hieronymus Cock in Antwerp in 1557 as after Hieronymus Bosch, and is inscribed Hieronymus. Bos. inventor. In fact, the engraver Pieter van der Heyden (c. 1530-72 or later) took the design from a drawing by Pieter Bruegel, dated 1556, now in the Albertina in Vienna. This was perhaps based in turn on a now lost design by Bosch, with whose style the composition more closely accords.
This is by no means a unique instance of confusion caused by inscriptions on prints. Cock also published a set of landscape engravings and credited the designs to Cornelis Cort, but the plates were reissued early in the seventeenth century by the Dutch publisher C.J. Visscher as being after Pieter Bruegel. Today the designer is referred to as the 'Master of the Small Landscapes', a nomenclature that rejects both published attributions.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
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