Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Artworks I'd Steal: De Dulle Griet

Source: Wikipedia
I love Dutch painters in general and Pieter Bruegel the Elder is probably the one I like best, along with Bosch. He's also known as Peasant Bruegel to tell him apart from the other members of this immensely talented family. At first I wanted to write about Hunters in the Snow, but I've had enough of snow (maybe later in the year, when it's too hot).

De Dulle Griet is a figure of Flemish folklore., in English she is called Mad Meg. Legend has it that she led a group of women to plunder hell and she brings madness and violence wherever she goes. The painting may have been inspired by Dante's Inferno. Bruegel travelled to Italy and there's a good chance that he was introduced to Italian literature.

There's a lot to see in the painting and, like many Dutch paintings from that time, the meaning of a lot of things is lost or left to guesswork. If you look closely, you can see a woman tying a demon down to the right of Dulle Griet - that's a Flemish proverb for a brave or tyrannical woman.

But all metaphors aside, what touches me most about this painting is the way the Dulle Griet seems to walk through the mayhem and destruction like she is haunted or searching for something she has lost. She seems to ignore everything that's happening around here, focused on something only she can see. I think she's lost and running from the violence she's causing, but she won't be able to escape it.
There are speculations that Bruegel painted a schizophrenic. The way schizophrenics experience their surroundings as threatening and chaotic would certainly fit the painting and Bruegel was an excellent observer, even if the illness was not understood as it is today.

You can view a massive version of the painting at and I would recommend taking a look, otherwise you won't be able to see all the tiny details.
Some of the information here came from the excellent book What great paintings say by Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen.

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