Pieter Bruegel the Older. Mad Meg. 1562. Oil on Wood. 117,4 x 162 cm.
It was believed a long time that Pieter Bruegel, the most important painter Flemish of the 16th century, was simply a painter of landscape, without education, but as we saw with the Tower of Babel (1564), after his travel in Italy between 1552 and 1554, it binds with humanistic circles and becomes the friend of scholars like the geographer Abraham Ortelius. As a worthy heir to Hieronymus Bosch it uses the same fantastic iconography, especially in the series of engravings of the Seven Virtues (1557), the same monsters and incredible animals, here, and also in the Triumph of Dead (1562-1563), the same environment of horror, populated sanguinary rage of demons and terror. If the painting look like the right panel of the triptych of Bosch the Garden of the Delights (1480-1490) representing the hell, there is not in Bruegel the same will of morale as Bosch. It seems that Brughel carries out a synthesis by regaining the shapes and the colours of Bosch. One often sought and found allusions to historical events in his works. If the Tower of Babel is a work with morale which express the ethics humanistic and Christian and which can be interpreted like a warning statement against the stupidity and the presumption, Mad Meg was not painted with a same aim. This woman made her bundle and leaves her village, that does not mean that it is mad, even if all that surrounds it is terrible and seems incoherent. It is necessary to bring closer the painting to facts. In 1562 the area of the Netherlands is a province under Spanish domination. The Spanish Enquiry is instituted with the agreement of the pope in 1478 at the request of the king Ferdinand V and the Isabelle queen. Whereas it was to be initially devoted to the problem of the Jews, it is occupied, since 1502, of the converted Moslems and, as from 1520, of the people accused of Protestantism. A few years after the creation of the Enquiry, papacy entrusts control of it to the sovereigns. Thus, the Spanish Enquiry becomes more one instrument of the State that of the Church, even if it is directed by the Dominican ones. Become symbol of cruelty and the obscurantism, especially in the Protestant countries, it imposes methods which are adopted by equivalent institutions in the catholic or Protestant countries of Europe. These tensions leads to a rising against Spain which bursts in 1566. It marks the beginning of a war which will shake the country until 1648, date of the signature of the treaty of Westphalia. This conflict finds its origins in the religious question: the Calvinists of the southernmost areas (current Belgium), raise themselves in mass and the wild repression carried out by the duke of Albe prevents any conciliation.
The 80 Year old war, also called revolt of the Netherlands or revolt of beggar, is a rising armed led with 1568 to 1648 (treaty of Westphalia) against Spanish monarchy by the provinces extending today on the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and the north of France. In 1562 the Protestants are already persecuted in the Netherlands. In France the massacre of a Protestant assembly with Wassy on March 1st, 1562, ordered by the Guise family, marks the beginning of the wars of religion. Bruegel knows all that. And this will lead to the massacre of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, massacres organized of Protestants of Paris in the night from August 23rd to 24th 1572, day of the St. Bartholomew's Day, massacres which makes more than 3.000 dead, which continues in province until October and opens a new period of war nuns. Impossible to evaluate in a precise way, the number of victims is estimated at 13.000. Meg is not mad, she knows why it leaves…
The point of view of the spectator is located a little above the character about at the center of the painting. The horizon east on one the higher third of work. The sky is on fire, One can compare it with the sky of the hell, the right panel of the garden of the delights of Bosch. Way of the glance. 1 the glance is first of all attracted by the character in the center which serves as 1st benchmark. 2 Next the glance moves on the right and on the left of Meg and discovers the details of the scenes of terror. 3 the spectator explores the painting while going up, on the right and on the left, it is always chaos. 4 In a last time the spectator sees the sky which burns and from of deduced that the scene is not normal and expresses really an immense disorder and upheavals.
This kind of painting is named “ swarming scene ” at Pieter Bruegel.
When one reveals the tension fields one realizes that 3 natural points of interest are used.
In low Meg is placed on the natural left lower point of interest.
Always in bottom, on the right the natural point of interest is occupied by an assembly and a violent dispute. In top on the right the natural point of interest is on the buildings. It is this detail which lets suppose that all is organized and that the picture refers to persecutions of the Protestants and announces the revolt of the beggar one or the 80 year old war.
Meg with crossroads.
In lower part of the large diagonal it is the village with armed scenes of violence, people and a situation which resembles an insurrection.
Above the same large diagonal it is a fantastic landscape whose imagery is borrowed from Bosch and the Garden of the Delights. This surrealist universe evokes the world of the dreams, it is populated strange, extravagant creatures between the man and the animal. Meg is located on this diagonal and it is between 2 worlds. It was well understood that she flees her village because of violence but what she discovers at the exit of this one explains the expression of its face. Margot is not mad it is in front of the eternal problem of the refugees…
We have just seen that work is built on the large diagonal which is used to some extent as border between two universes.
The question arises of knowing if this diagonal is rising or downward.
It is Meg which answers the question. If one follows his direction of displacement the diagonal is downward even if few guiding lines go in this direction.
The downward diagonal always induced an idea of fall and forfeiture what of course is the case here.
The face of Meg is marked by fear and terror. It is quite normal because what she discovers is worrying. Notice the extravagant position of the creature to the background… (! )
Like Bosch, Bruegel uses bubbles to create a fantastic and unreal atmosphere. The bubble such as it is shown here is not present in nature.
This fish is a hybrid creature having members. Bruegel carries out a synthesis between several creatures appearing in the Garden of the Delights.
The painting is enlightened practically entirely by the light of an immense blazing inferno located in top on the right, in the sky.
Colours : Harmonize between hot colours
Similar Painting :
Pieter Bruegel the Older.
Triumph of Death. (1562).
Pieter Bruegel the Older.
The Massacre of the Innocent. (1565).
Hieronymus Bosch The Garden of Earthly Delights. (1480-1490)
Right panel. The Hell. Clic to see the analysis.