ⓘ Dull Gret

Dull Gret

ⓘ Dull Gret

Dulle Griet, also known as Mad Meg, is a figure of Flemish folklore who is the subject of a 1563 oil-on-panel by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting depicts a virago, Dulle Griet, who leads an army of women to pillage Hell, and is currently held and exhibited at the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp.


1. History and description

A restoration of the painting in 2018 revealed that it was painted in 1563, shortly after the painter had moved to Brussels. Previously, the signature and the date on the painting had been illegible, and it was assumed that it was painted two years earlier, or, based on its close compositional and stylistic similarity to The Fall of the Rebel Angels and The Triumph of Death, one year earlier. Like those pictures, Dulle Griet owes much to Hieronymus Bosch. It is assumed the painting was destined for a series.

Bruegels earliest biographer, Karel van Mander, writing in 1604, described the painting as "Dulle Griet, who is looking at the mouth of Hell". It came into the collections of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, then was looted by the Swedish troops in 1648, and reappeared in Stockholm in 1800. Art collector Fritz Mayer van den Bergh discovered it in 1897 at an auction in Cologne, where he bought it for a minimal sum, discovering its actual author a few days later.

Griet was a disparaging name given to any bad-tempered, shrewish woman. Her mission refers to the Flemish proverb:

She could plunder in front of hell and return unscathed.

Bruegel is thus making fun of noisy, aggressive women. At the same time he castigates the sin of covetousness: although already burdened down with possessions, Griet and her grotesque companions are prepared to storm the mouth of Hell itself in their search for more.

Dulle Griet appears as a character in Caryl Churchills play Top Girls 1982, where she recounts her invasion of Hell: "Id had enough, I was mad, I hate the bastards. I come out my front door that morning and shout till my neighbors come out and I said, Come on, were going where the evil come from and pay the bastards out." Churchill, 28.


1.1. History and description Details

While her female followers loot a house, Griet advances towards the mouth of Hell through a landscape populated by Boschian monsters see detailed images. They represent the sins that are punished there. Griet wears male armour - a breastplate, a mailed glove and a metal cap; her military costume is parodied by the monster in a helmet beside her, who pulls up a drawbridge. A knife hangs from her side, while in her right hand she carries a sword, which may refer to the saying: "He could go to Hell with a sword in his hand." A book of proverbs published in Antwerp in 1568 contains a saying which is very close in spirit to Bruegels painting:

One woman makes a din, two women a lot of trouble, three an annual market, four a quarrel, five an army, and against six the Devil himself has no weapon.


2. Painting materials

The pigment analysis was conducted by the scientists at the Ghent University. Bruegel used the cheap smalt for the robe of the central figure of Mad Meg instead of the more expensive ultramarine together with vermilion and copper resinate.

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