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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Pieter Bruegel's Dulle Griet

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(6):543-544. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.59.
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Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525-1569), famous during his lifetime for his illustrations of proverbs and for his humor, did not reveal what inspired him to paint the satirical allegorical painting known as Dulle Griet. In 1604, more than 40 years after the painting's completion, Karel van Mander, an early historian of Flemish painting, in his Schilder-Boeck wrote of Bruegel: “He also painted a Dulle Griet, who is stealing before [in front of] hell [Figure 1]. I believe this picture . . . is to be found at the Imperial court”2(p3) of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, in Prague. Moreover, van Mander noted that the viewer of Bruegel's paintings cannot “contemplate [them] seriously without laughing, and however straight-faced and stately he may be, he has at least to twitch his mouth or smile.”3(p1) The equivalent name for Griet is Margaret or Meg in English. The name often was used in a pejorative sense for an ill-tempered and emotionally explosive woman. At Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, the cannon was named Roaring Meg and another great cannon at the Friday Market in Ghent, Belgium, in 1578, was named Dulle Griet.3(p127) Thus, Dulle Griet was a stock character in the folklore of the day.

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Figure 1.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525-1569), Flemish. Dulle Griet looting before hell.

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Figure 2.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525-1569), Flemish. Folly carrying the ship of fools.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525-1569), Flemish. Dulle Griet (Mad Meg), 1562-1566. Oil on oakwood, 117 × 162 cm. Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, Belgium. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York, New York.

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