Major works | Moderation versus Excess
La Cuisine grasse et La Cuisine maigre
The Lean kitchen and The Fat kitchen, engraved by Pieter van der Heyden after the drawings by Pieter Bruegel, and published by Jérôme Cock, form a pair.
While in The Lean kitchen, paupers in rags reveal their repulsive thinness – like the mother with her sagging breasts, in The Fat kitchen, the chubby forms, breast gorged with milk and bloated faces extol opulence – like the dog whose sheer overweight is a handicap. The types of food are split quite clearly: mussels and vegetables represent the daily bread of the starving; meat, pâté and bread symbolise a rich man’s fodder.
Attached to this dichotomic presentation is a moral which appears in the background with the question of hospitality. Despite the spread of dishes in the rich kitchen, the occupants refuse to share them with a man who is in all evidence in need. The poor, however, are willing to share what little they have. But the portly figure in the background would rather get away from there swiftly. Wealth, in the broad sense, blinds Man to existential things and brings his focus only on to himself. Through these two prints, Bruegel calls for self-control and temperance.
Both of these engravings were very popular at the time as they were reproduced on numerous occasions and at least two pastiches with a reversed version and a smaller copy are known.