Big Fish Eat Little Fish

A work made of etching and engraving in black on ivory laid paper, laid down on ivory laid paper.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of etching and engraving in black on ivory laid paper, laid down on ivory laid paper.

Date:

1557

Artist:

Pieter van der Heyden (Flemish, c. 1530–after 1584)
after Pieter Bruegel, the elder (Flemish, 1525/30–1569)
published by Hieronymus Cock (Flemish, c. 1510–1570)

About this artwork

This engraving hauntingly illustrates the proverb that the big fish always eats the little fish. Starting with the larger-than-life fish at its center, the image teems with grotesque activity, as bodies spill out of other bodies and hybrid creatures walk and fly about. Pieter Bruegel seems to take a dim view of humanity here, one of disgust at its seemingly endless capacity to cannibalize itself. This is epitomized in the hybrid fish-person at left carrying off its prize, another fish, in its gaping mouth. In the foreground, a man directs a child’s gaze toward the scene, telling him to “behold” (ecce) the proverbial truth on display.

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Prints and Drawings

Artist

Pieter van der Heyden

Title

Big Fish Eat Little Fish

Origin

Flanders

Date

1557

Medium

Etching and engraving in black on ivory laid paper, laid down on ivory laid paper

Dimensions

217 × 299 mm (image); 230 × 300 mm (plate); 229 × 301 mm (sheet)

Credit Line

The Amanda S. Johnson and Marion J. Livingston Fund

Reference Number

2016.376

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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