Bernet Kempers 1973a
“De oblieman. Metamorfosen van een koekjesverkoper” (A.J. Bernet Kempers) 1973
[in: Volkskunde, vol. LXXIV/1 (1973), pp. 1-43]
[Also mentioned in Gibson 1983: 120 (E274)]
Bernet Kempers identifies a character in one of the tondos of the Twelve Proverbs panel that is often attributed to Bruegel (Antwerp, Museum Mayer Van den Bergh) as een oblieman: ‘A seller of oblies, sometimes also called oblie (after his typical street call) or obliespeelder (because he let people play dice for his wares) or obliedraaier (because he made use of a spinning wheel)’ [p. 8]. These oblies were thin waffles that could also be curled up or cylinder- or cone-shaped.
The same character also shows up in 21 other sixteenth-century images that were already signalled by Renger (see Renger 1969 and Renger 1970). But Renger erroneously calls the character a pedlar. Bernet Kempers’ objections against this interpretation are:
- the character does not carry a basket, but a tin box or a wooden barrel;
- apparently this object does not weigh heavy, the so-called pedlars don’t seem to break down under a burden;
- sometimes there are biscuits in their immediate surroundings;
- sometimes the character is accompanied by a text and in one of these cases the text refers to the Hyppenbuben orden (sellers of hippen = waffles);
- there is no reason why pedlars would always be gambling, whereas in the case of the oblieman it was typical of his profession.
These characters aren’t cheating pedlars, but each of them is ‘a playing representative of Gambling, who also enticed others to play and who was present where the circumstances were favourable and where he got his chance’. This oblieman is by all means an allegorical figure, but not in the sense as argued by Renger. This allegory also contains a symbolical element referring to Vanity (among other reasons because of the fragility of the biscuits).
Bernet Kempers points out that, apart from some general signs of shabbiness, Bosch’s Pedlar (Rotterdam) has nothing in common with the oblieman. One only has to look at the protagonist’s face in order ‘to know for certain that he cannot be a “cheat”’. Renger’s interpretation of this Bosch panel was obviously wrong.