Greed and strife
In this thesis I investigate the hypothesis that Pieter Bruegel the Elder for the painting Mad Griet is inspired by Prudentius’ Psychomachia, especially by the part of the verse in which the vices Greed and Twist play the leading role. I also investigate whether the Landjuweel van Antwerp of 1561 could have been the direct reason for the creation of this performance. To substantiate this, I investigated whether Prudentius’ text was present in Antwerp in 1561 and whether Bruegel was also familiar with it. Furthermore, a comparison has been made between the visual elements of the performance and the Psychomachia text to clarify the relationship between the two. This shows that struggle, depicted as war, anger, or aggression, is the common factor. Because this battle takes place in Prudentius between virtues and vices, an analysis was subsequently made of Bruegel’s moralistic works. This shows that up to 1563, struggles as well as virtues and vices are subjects that regularly recur in his work. Finally, the theme of the Landjuweel and the content of the sentence plays have been compared with the text of Prudentius and with the representation of Mad Griet. . In Prudentius they pose a threat to the salvation of the human soul and in rhetoric texts they endanger solidarity and prosperity. The coherence of the results found leads to the conclusion that there are sufficient arguments for the validity of the hypothesis and that Mad Griet is indeed the representation of the Greed and the Twist. Moreover, it has proved entirely plausible that the Rhetoric Tournament of 1561 in Antwerp gave the impetus to this unique performance.
Greed and Twist, Mad Griet by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The painting Mad Griet by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the Mayer van den Bergh museum in Antwerp is at the top of the museum’s list of masterpieces. In a introduction video on the website, one speaks of the most important painting in the collection. It’s on the museum brochure and is the merchandise icon of the museum shop. Apparently the work also continues to intrigue the modern viewer. That is not surprisingly. Pieter Bruegel’s performance raises questions: “What do I see and what does it mean? “. Two large figures, strangely dressed in colorful, but ragged clothes, moving between battlefield and hell, against a background of burning fields and ruins. A giant hangs over the war zone and a woman, dull Griet, walks from it away in the direction of the mouth of hell (fig. 1). The tangle of creatures and scenes forms a mystery and an intellectual challenge for the spectator.
The painter himself is also an enigmatic figure. Little is known about it private life and artistic career, intellectual and social environment, clients, views and background. We only know a few loose ones from contemporary sources facts such as the date of accession to the Guild of Saint Luke in 1551 and the date of his marriage to Mayken Coecke in Brussels in 1563. The year of death, 1569, is known by the memorial plaque, which his son Jan Brueghel had placed in the Chapel Church in Brussels. Bruegel’s works explain on the basis of events in his life or knowledge of his political or religious views is therefore an impossible task.
The lack of facts, however, clears the way for art historians to view the work interpret different perspectives. It goes without saying that interpretations of a work can only be made plausible by a complex of clues and arguments, consisting of known biographical facts, the intellectual, religious and political climate of the period and Bruegel’s place in it.
For the interpretation of Mad Griet it is especially important to look at the place of the work within the total corpus, the influence of the artistic and intellectual environment Antwerp and the specific social and social events at the time of the creation. This has now resulted in a great diversity of interpretations and approaches, which show that the qualification conversation piece applies to both art historians and the modern spectator.
Bruegel painted Mad Griet in 1561. After a long time confusion about the dating, infrared research by Ghent University has revealed the year MDLXI (fig. 2) .1 From this period, 1561 – 1562, there are a number of important works remain, which, both in terms of content and technology, stand out from the previous production of paintings. In these works: The Archangel Michael in battle with the apocalyptic dragon 1562, The triumph of death 1562 and Mad Griet, Bruegel uses the same surrealistic visual language in paint as in the earlier print designs (fig. 3 and 4).
That Mad Griet is a complex work, is evident from the variety of interpretations so far. The oldest remarks are from Karel van Mander, who identifies it in his Schilder-Boeck as the depiction of a dull Griet, an evil woman who even conquers the devil.2 The linguistic historian Jan Grauls interprets the depicted giantess as the militant saint. Margaretha, who according to legend defeats the devil and binds him on a pillow. 3 Jozef Muls analyzes the work in the light of the turbulent political situation in Antwerp during the Spanish rule in the Low Countries, a period of increasing regulation, tax pressure and intolerance. Dulle Griet is interpreted by Muls as a representation of human aggression, war, plunder, robbery and destruction.4 According to Yona Pinson, Bruegel visualizes folly and vanity, greed and waste of man in Dulle Griet. Mad Griet is interpreted as personification of greed and the rooftop jester symbolizes human folly and waste. According to Pinson, this folly is further emphasized by the prominent presence of an aggressive woman, a dull Griet who does not play her allotted subordinate role in medieval society, but goes to war and challenges the devil.5 Also in Walter Gibson’s analysis, Bruegel recreated the negative view of the medieval woman on women in his work. The ridiculously attired dull Brill at the head of an army of squirming women reflects the anti-feminist wave that reached its peak in Europe in the mid-16th century. In this view Dulle Griet is the depiction of the beloved farce figure of the upside-down world, in which the woman is wearing pants and the man is reduced to an idiot. At the same time, it is a political satire and an expression of the dislike of the female administrators, who are in power at the time.
Margaret Sullivan takes a different view. She interprets the work as depicting Madness and Folly, Insanity and Folly. Madness, dull Griet, represents the frenzy: madness mixed with anger. It represents the hypocritical Christians, who wage war on behalf of noble principles, but are in reality driven only by greed. Folly, the rooftop jester, is interpreted as the personification of the Antwerp establishment, the rich merchants who want to increase their wealth at all costs without taking into account the consequences of their behavior.7
Due to the complexity of the painting and the function of conversation piece, all these interpretations have a certain validity and contribute to the solution in the search for the meaning of Mad Griet. My interpretation of the painting, however, differs significantly from the previous statements. In my opinion there are compelling arguments to believe that in this work Bruegel depicts the vices Greed, Anger and Twist, as they figure in the text of Aurelius Prudentius Clemens’s Psychomachia, in which the struggle for the soul of man is depicted. fought. This relationship is not just a vague, general borrowing from the tenor of the text, not an allegorical representation of the struggle between good and evil forces, but a fairly accurate depiction of characteristic episodes from the story. This hypothesis assumes that the story of Prudentius in the middle of the sixteenth century in Antwerp was well known and even to some extent popular. After all, if the painting was intended for the free market, it had to be recognizable in order to be of interest to the art collector. Was there any interest in Prudentius’ works, and was the thousand-year-old text still relevant? To this
In order to give an answer, a short analysis of the Psychomachia is necessary. The presence and availability of the text is also discussed.
The next question is whether this interpretation of Mad Griet, in terms of both form and content, fits in with the development of Bruegel’s work. Analysis and comparison of figurative elements of Bruegel’s allegorical works will provide an answer. I will also pay attention to Bruegel’s social environment and the possible influence of his social and intellectual circle on his knowledge of humanistic-moralistic literature.
Finally, it is investigated whether there could have been a special occasion for the production of this characteristic work with a leading role for the vices of greed, wrath and strife in Antwerp in 1561.
2.1 The battle for the soul of man
The Psychomachia is an allegory of the spiritual conflict between good and evil, written in Latin by the Roman Christian poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348 – c. 410). Prudentius describes the struggle that rages in man between his good and bad qualities. The good forces in man are personified by the virtues Fides (Faith), Pudicitia (Chastity), Patientia (Patience), Mens Humilis (Humility), Spes (Hope), Sobrietas (Temperance), Operatio (Good Works), Pax ( Peace) and Concordia (Concord) and the evil through sin Veterum Cultura Deorum (Idolatry), Libido Lust), Ira (Wrath), Superbia (Pride), Luxuria (Unchastity), Avaritia (Greed) and Discordia (Twist) .8
A brief description of the contents explains the appeal the story has had over the centuries.9 In the prologue, the allegory of battle is introduced by reference to the battles of Abraham, calling us to fight. against pagan men. The War of Abraham against the barbarian kings who hold Lot captive, ends in Abraham’s victory. Filled with the spirit of God, he is much faster than his enemies, who are held back by the weight of the spoils of war. The vicissitudes of Abraham are, according to Prudentius, a model to show that man has servants in him to overcome the evil that is always present in us and tries to prevail. The text reads:
“Tell us Great King how the soul is endowed with power to fight and drive our sins out of our hearts; when our thoughts are scattered and when battle arises within us, when bad desires mutiny, tell us how to preserve the freedom of the soul; tell us about our defense against the devil. “10
“For you great leader, have not left us helpless here from the onslaught of sin, but have given us the virtues to help us in battle and to renew our courage. […] We must examine the properties of the virtues and of the dark monsters so that we can challenge them. “11
This model of inner struggle is elaborated in an epic full of bloody, cruel acts of war. It starts with the beheading of Veterum Cultura Deorum by Fides. Fides jumps on the severed head and takes the trouble to stamp the dead gray eyes out of the bloody skull, all under the approving supervision of the martyrs. Next, it is Pudicitia’s turn, who slits Libido through the throat. After that, Patientia and Ira enter the battlefield. Ira’s gun violence slips past Patientia’s armor, who does nothing but quietly waits for the furious vice to kill itself. Patientia then says, “This is the way we live, we erase the devils of passion and all their helpers by holding out when they attack. Ira is her own enemy and kills herself. ” The struggle between the virtues and the vices continues in this way. Every sin is defeated, albeit sometimes with difficulty. When Luxuria appears on the battlefield, she does not fight with weapons, but conquers the virtues
with its charms and all its virtues surrender to drunkenness. They seem defeated, but Sobrietas holds out, addresses the virtues and begs them to regret their behavior and turn against Luxuria and her temptations. This succeeds and Luxuria is defeated, her teeth are loose in the jaw, her throat is torn and the pieces of the severed tongue are spat out. She eventually dies because she eats herself. The vices take flight and leave their valuables behind. Avaritia, accompanied by devils such as Cura (Anxiety), Famis (Famine), Metus (Fear), Periurium (Perjury), Corruptela (Fraud) and Sordes (Filthiness), all fed by greed, robs all valuables. A massacre ensues and throngs of living creatures are destroyed. All humanity is trapped by Avaritia and can only escape into the fires of hell. Even the priests are tempted and cannot help. Fortunately, there is the Ratio to help them and Avaritia has no more control over her enemies. She becomes enraged and disguises herself as Frugi (Thrift) and hides the stolen loot under the guise of caring for her children. People are fooled by this and follow her because they think her work is virtuous. The virtues are confused and they can no longer distinguish their friends from their enemies. But then Operatio (Good Works) comes and Avaritia strangles. When people think the battle has been won and peace is finally there, it turns out that Discordia has disguised herself. She has put off her torn garment and with olive branches in her hair she has mixed herself among the celebrating virtues. However, when she takes out a knife and tries to injure Concordia, she is discovered and killed by Fides.
It was not surprising that the vivid description of the struggle in politically and religiously troubled Antwerp appealed to the imagination. Most important for the interpretation of Mad Griet are the verses in which Avaritia leaves the battlefield laden with booty and those in which Discordia remains behind and tries to kill Concordia disguised as virtue.
2.2 Prudentius in the Sixteenth Century.
The Psychomachia is primarily a story of a bloody life-and-death struggle between good and evil, which is ultimately settled decisively through Operatio and Fides’ victory over Avaritia and Discordia. The illustrations of the Psychomachia show that the pictorial description of the battle was a source of inspiration for the illuminators of the manuscripts, the atrocities were depicted with clear enthusiasm (Figs. 5, 6 and 7). From the ninth century onwards, this visual tradition spawned an iconography of vices, which not only appeared in the manuscripts of Prudentius’s works, but was also applied in Biblical and educational works such as the Somme Le Roy (fig. 8 and 9). This visual language had also left its mark in monumental sculpture and, due to the presence on the outside of churches and cathedrals, belonged to the cognitive arsenal of the illiterate medieval man (fig. 10 and 11).
However, the virtues are not only combative, but also weak. They allow themselves to be seduced by Luxuria or deceived by Avaritia, but by the examples of steadfast characters from the Old Testament or by unyielding virtues such as Patientia, Ratio or Operatio they are saved. Both the struggle of the virtues and the patriarch’s salvation emphasize that the fate of the soul is by no means certain, but that through virtue, good works, and following the right examples, eternal salvation can be achieved.
This is also the importance of the theme of virtues and sins in the sixteenth century. There were various theological interpretations of the expectation of salvation, and there was no agreement as to whether virtue and good works could contribute to eternal salvation. The conflict between Catholics – adherents of free will – and the followers of the Reformation – defenders of predestination – was topical.12 In 1524, in response to Luther’s teachings, Erasmus wrote the treatise De librio arbitrio (On free will). . According to this tract, man was able to choose between good and evil himself by the grace of God. Luther responded with his pamphlet De servo arbitrio (On the Enslaved Will), in which he affirmed man’s inability to contribute to his own salvation. Only by divine grace could one stay out of the hands of Satan. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563) the doctrine of virtues and sins was once again
explicitly established the possibility of forgiveness of sins.13 This perspective clearly explains the interest in Prudentius’ work in the humanistic environment of Antwerp. After all, in Psychomachia it is man himself who is expected to fight against sin and to call upon the help of martyrs and patriarchs.
Interest in Prudentius’s works, however, was not only of a religious background, but was part of the overall growth of the book sales market. In the middle of the sixteenth century, Antwerp was a bustling port city and, due to rapidly expanding world trade, became not only the commercial capital of Europe, but also a center of culture with a great attraction for artists and scientists due to the growing prosperity. , the prosperity of the bourgeoisie and the need for information, and especially due to the presence of talented newcomers from all over Europe, the printing press flourished. Interest ranged from classical authors, bible editions and humanist works to printed matter for everyday use. Christoffel Plantijn, a bookbinder and leatherworker from Tours, came to Antwerp in 1549 and opened the Plantijn printing company in 1555. Here, printed matter for the common citizen, such as almanacs, Bibles and books of hours, was produced in large numbers. In addition, Roman and Greek literature was in great demand and Plantin produced high-quality special editions with beautiful binding work for a prosperous and intellectual European clientele.15 For these classical texts he collaborated with scientific specialists from all over Europe. In 1564 the complete work of Prudentius was published in an edition of 1,280 copies (fig. 12 and 13). The editing was done by Theodorus Pulmannus and Victor Giselinus, who became a proofreader at Plantin in 1564.16 For this edition, copies from the library of Pulmannus as well as from the 1560 by Giselinus were published.
published edition. a wide circulation of high quality to be issued. The fact that the Psychomachia was a beloved text within the collected work was evident from the prominent place, from pages 7 to 37, at the front of the book.
- Bruegel and his contemporaries
3.1 Artistic environment
Although Psychomachia enjoyed a certain popularity in the Antwerp intellectual environment, this does not necessarily mean that Bruegel was also familiar with this text. How well read was he? Not much is known about this. Was he a talented, but not too highly educated artist or a developed humanist with a preference for antique texts? It is certain that his painting career, until he moved to Brussels in 1563, took place in Antwerp. In the approximately 22 years that Bruegel lived there, he came into contact in many ways with the network of humanists and intellectuals that attracted the city as an important center of printing. His first acquaintance with this environment already took place in 1541 as an apprentice to Pieter Coecke van Aelst, a renowned and esteemed painter and carpet designer with studios in Antwerp and Brussels. However, this teacher was not only an artist. In addition to his artistic activities, he published, for example, the Dutch translation of De Architectura van Vitruvius and a Dutch, German and French translation of Book IV of Serlio’s treatises on architecture.19 Bruegel was thus already in a literate environment during his training period.
After Pieter Coecke’s death in 1550, he started working for Hieronymus Cock, an Antwerp etcher and publisher, among others.20 In 1548, he founded the publisher and printer De Vier Winden together with his wife Volcxken Diericx. It
publisher’s fund van Cock specialized in humanistic and didactic graphics and responded to the growing demand for high-quality artistic printed matter. There was great interest in prints by old masters such as Rafaël and Jeroen Bosch. Cock also played an important role in the development of a group of young talented artists such as Frans Floris, Maarten van Heemskerck and Pieter Bruegel, to whom he awarded numerous commissions. Thanks to the professional organization and the good distribution system, excellent engravers such as the humanist philosopher Dirck Volckerts Coornhert and his pupils Philip Galle and Pieter van der Heyden could be attracted.21 Christoffel Plantijn also belonged to Cock’s intellectual circle. This relationship was not only amicable, but also businesslike. Around 1558, Plantin took care of the sale of Cock’s prints in Frankfurt and Paris.22 By publishing representations of antique statues and reliefs, Cock also had contacts with the network of connoisseurs and enthusiasts of antique art such as Ortelius, the cartographer, and with Golztius and Lispius and was therefore associated with the most important artistic and humanistic milieu in the Netherlands.23 The working relationship with Cock thus also gave Bruegel access to this company. It is clear from Ortelius’s correspondence, for example, that he was a friend of Bruegel.24 This is evident from a poem of praise which he had included in his liber amicorum in memory of his friend Bruegel. In addition, he owned the grisaille The Deathbed of Mary (1564).
In 1551, Bruegel became a member of the Guild of Saint Luke (appendix 1) .25 It was an organization of which not only painters could become members, but also practitioners of artistic trades, such as book printers, art dealers and engravers. The guild gave the members a monopoly position in the exercise of their profession in the city of Antwerp. In addition, it acted as a business market for the members, who could offer their artworks here to interested parties. The Guild of Saint Luke also included Christopher Plantin, Abraham Ortelius, and Hieronymus Cock. Although it is not clear whether Bruegel was actually part of the Antwerp group
humanist intellectuals, he was in direct contact with them through his teacher, clients and the guild and was able to learn about the political and philosophical debate in these circles.
That Bruegel was familiar with the literature and the depiction tradition of moralistic subjects of virtues and vices is evident from the series of prints commissioned by Hieronymus Cock. He may have come into contact with this subject during his apprenticeship with Pieter Coecke van Aelst. In 1532-1534 he designed the carpet series The Seven Deadly Sins, of which at least five series are woven (fig. 14). The first series was in the possession of Henry VIII in 1536 and the second series, woven in 1542-1544, was intended for Mary of Hungary.26 Although the designs probably predate Bruegel’s teaching period, their importance was so great, that it is plausible that the theme formed part of the general knowledge of the studio and thus also of Bruegel’s learning process.
The influence of humanist philosophers such as Erasmus is also reflected in Bruegel’s work, for example through the many proverbs that occur in his work.27 Erasmus collected more than 4000 proverbs in his Adages. This predilection for proverbs is reflected in Bruegel’s work, not only in The twelve proverbs (1558) and De proverbs (1559) (fig. 15), but also in a less emphatic way in other works. Examples include: “Binding the devil on the pillow.” in Dulle Griet and “Idleness is the devil’s ear cushion.” in De Luiheid. (Fig. 16 and 17).
The theme of virtues and sin was not only a popular subject in printmaking or in the theological debate between Catholics and Protestants, but also a favorite theme in rhetoric literature. The repertoire of the rhetoric theater consisted of factions, farces and sentence plays. The sentence play was an allegorical drama in which the main roles were played by the virtues and vices, the “sinnekens”. 28 The vices had names such as “Lord Profit”, “Stubborn Heart” and “Jalours Gepeyns”, which
were immediately recognizable as negative for the spectators. Sometimes the characters had political or satirical significance. “Wraechgierich Hert” was the personification of the Spaniards and by “Blood-thirsty Mind” was meant the Jesuits.29 The games of the senses were performed during fairs and popular festivals, annual fairs, happy entries and processions. Highlights were the competitions between the various rhetoric chambers, the land jewels.
The Antwerp rhetoric chamber, the Violieren, was founded in 1480 within the Guild of Saint Luke.30 Artists, printers and members of the rhetoric chamber were closely linked in this way. Because of his membership of the Guild of Luke, Bruegel not only moved in the environment of fellow artists, but was also surrounded by the literary elite of Antwerp. The points of contact between the moralism in Bruegel’s prints and that of the rhetoricians’ senses will undoubtedly have led to an exchange of the various literary sources for the artistic approach to virtues and sins. In Bruegel’s work, clear connections can therefore be identified with rhetoricians and rhetorician literature. A direct indication is the depiction of a theater performance in the designs for the prints Hoboken Fair (fig. 18) and St. George’s Fair (fig. 19). But Bruegel also incorporated the themes of rhetoric literature in his work. The sentence play “Den Spyeghel der Salicheyt van Elckerlijc – How that every human being can be done to God” is one of the most famous rhetoric dramas of the late Middle Ages.31 In this the main character Elckerlijc goes in search of self-knowledge in order to become a better person. The drawing Elck is clearly inspired by the theme of Elckerlijc, the searching person (fig. 20). In the Ommegang of Antwerp in 1563, the activities of the searching man, which Bruegel depicted in the print, seem to have served as a model for one of the tableaux in the procession, the ‘Heydensche Meestersse’.32 The three spells in the print are also depicted in the tableaux of the historical procession. In any case, this shows the mutual influence and exchange of themes between Bruegel and the rhetoricians in his environment.
- Mad Griet in Bruegel’s work
The Mad Griet painting is made up of many small and large scenes, which at first sight are hardly related. The connecting factor between the characters and the scenes is the battle, which is expressed in combat actions, the equipment of the figures and a world in flames. Such an abundance of scenes is often encountered in Bruegel’s work. With themes such as children’s games and proverbs, this diversity stems from the subject itself, but even when it is less obvious, the image area is filled with small images. It makes the works of art an exuberant viewing game and Mad Griet is a striking illustration of this. The main character occupies a relatively small space and has to compete with a centrally depicted figure on the roof of a gatehouse. The burning landscape, the funny and creepy monsters, the fantasy buildings, every part of the performance demands attention. The same way of working, the theme of battle in combination with an abundance of scenes and visual elements, was used by Bruegel in other great works from this period: The battle between Lent and Shrove Tuesday (image 21), Triumph of Death and The Archangel Michael in battle with the apocalyptic dragon. In these last three works it is immediately clear from the title that struggle, meant satirically or as a fight to the death, is the main motif. The title of the painting Mad Griet differs, perhaps because the name is not original, but taken over from a qualification of Karel van Mander, who writes: ‘also a mad Griet, who does a robbery for Hell, who is very bewildered, and strangers is themed on his shot’.33 Although it is not clear from the name, the work shows all the characteristics of a battle.
In Psychomachia, struggle also plays a predominant role, both in the story and in the illustrations and the derived visual tradition in monumental sculpture. The virtues and the vices are depicted as warring women. The virtues usually wear well-fitting armor with a decorated shield, footwear on the feet and a helmet on the head, the sins are decked out in sloppy clothes, bareheaded or with peculiar headgear and bare feet. The fight of
the virtues are purposeful and effective, that of sins savage and cowardly. The equipment consists of swords and lances (fig. 5, 6 and 7). Struggle is also an eye-catching visual element in Mad Griet, depicted in various ways. To the right, a small group of warriors in armor and armed with lances are advancing through a moat towards the bridge, where a women’s army, armed with whips, lances and kitchen utensils, is fighting naked, monstrous creatures (fig. 22). The monsters are flattened and beaten, tied to a pillow, cornered, pecked and pushed into the water. A group of women threatens the monstrosities, who climb a ladder laden with loot to their companions in a cooking pot and a third group robs the bridge house, tries to steal the purse from the man on the roof and catches money falling from his butt. (Fig. 23).
Dulle Griet is also equipped with various war attributes. She wears a breastplate and has a helmet on her head. She has a sword in her right hand and the left hand is encased in a metal glove (Fig. 24). On the left side of the painting in the mouth of hell, a fight between monsters and devils takes place. In addition to these explicit combat actions, the hellish landscape with ruins and fire also evokes associations with war and destruction.
A mutual comparison of Bruegel’s work shows that the theme of struggle often occurs, both in prints and in panels (Appendix 2, Table 1). The fact that violence plays a leading role in the print De Toorn (1557) is inherent to the subject. Ira, with her head pierced, leads her army, which is carrying a large knife. In the background, a ship on dry land is attacked by a gang of soldiers armed with lances. All of this takes place in a threatening war landscape (fig. 25). But the violence is also present in prints that are not directly related to conflict. For example, in De Gierigheid (1557) and Na-zeal (1557), a small army invades a fantasy building (fig. 26 and 27). In the series of virtues, De Kracht (1560) is depicted as a winged, classically dressed female figure, with her attributes the column and anvil and a chained dragon at her feet, but all around her battle is fought (fig. 28). Around the fortress, an army of horsemen is chasing monsters into a hole in the ground, in the background naked figures are hunted into an egg and in the foreground around Fortitudo swordsmen fight against monsters. The allegorical representation of Fortitudo becomes complete
uled by the struggle between good and evil, the struggle for the soul of man. Elements of violence can also be found in Elck (1558) and in the posthumous print (1570) The Struggle for Money, probably made around 1562 (fig. 29) .34
Struggle as the theme of the paintings is explicitly present in the aforementioned work The Struggle between Lent and Shrove Tuesday. Here, however, it is more a question of humor as a weapon than of a battle to the death. In The Triumph of Death, death seems to be winning violently and the background is a desolate disaster area in which armed troops walk around. In The Archangel Michael in Battle with the Apocalyptic Dragon, a life-and-death battle is going on between the good and evil forces.35 As in the Psychomachia, battle played an important role in Bruegel’s work until 1563. After this, the production of Bruegel’s moralistic-didactic work diminishes and the depiction of the struggle between good and evil is also scarcely made.
4.2 Virtues and Sins in Bruegel’s Work
The main characters on the battlefield in Psychomachia, the virtues and vices, also play an important role in Bruegel’s earlier oeuvre. The series of prints The Seven Deadly Sins, The Last Judgment and The Seven Virtues, which he designed between 1556 and 1560 on behalf of Hieronymus Cock, is one of his most important work and has definitively established his name as an artist. The theme of virtues and sins was popular in the 16th century, also in printmaking. The publication of these engravings was a lucrative business for Hieronymus Cock, and their commercial success will certainly have contributed to Bruegel’s fame as an artist.36
In the prints the virtues are depicted as stately, modest women, with attributes in accordance with the classic iconography of the virtues. The deadly sins, women of clearly inferior status, are concerned with their sinful activity. Every vice is
in the company of the animal that belongs to her according to iconographic tradition. For example, the wrath is accompanied by the bear, the laziness by the donkey and the snail and the avarice by the toad (fig. 30). In addition, every vice is equipped with an appropriate attribute: Wrath has a knife, Laziness a pillow, Pride a mirror and Avarice a money box. The moralizing message is conveyed by means of the many scenes that are closely related to the vice in question: figures fighting in De Toorn, sleeping persons in De Luiheid, and people scurrying and vomiting in De Vraatzucht. All this takes place in an environment populated by little monsters, devil-like creatures and human buildings (fig. 31 and 32).
The vices that appear in the prints regularly recur in Bruegel’s work, but less moralistic and sometimes with more humor. In Struggle between Lent and Shrove Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday is depicted as a big eater, and although gluttony certainly plays a role, it is not a main theme, but rather a satirical depiction of the carnival. intemperance are associated, but can also be an indictment of poverty or denounce the avarice of the well-to-do (fig. 33 and 34). The Land of Kokanje (1567) even seems to be an ode to gluttony and laziness, but the apathetic attitude of the gnawed figures gives the painting a negative undertone (fig. 35). This is confirmed by the text, which probably underlies the work: “Luy and lecker and much to meughen, those are three dinghies who do not and deughen.”
In the print De Toorn, Ira is depicted as a warrior figure. However, Bruegel depicts wrath not only in the form of violence of war, but also as more isolated violence: fighting monsters, animals flying at each other’s throats and a monster clubbing a naked creature. Under a shelter a man is roasted on a spit and poured over with oil. Daily violence, another interpretation of anger, returns in Elck, where two men argue, and in De Vette Keuken and De Skinny Keuken, where the intruder in the group is forced out. Thus, Ira manifests itself not only as a struggle, but also as anger.
The most common vice in Bruegel’s work is greed. Prior to the designs for the series of deadly sins, he made the drawing The big fish eat the small fish in 1557 (Figure 36). It is an old proverb that blames the prosperous rulers and merchants for social inequality. Because of their greed and greed the impotent poor are exploited. At the same time, Bruegel shows that greed does not pay, even the big fish will perish.39 In the drawing The Greed, all sorts of evil acts relating to money are depicted. Avaritia has coins in her lap and with her left hand she grabs a money box, which is filled by a bird man. Money pots are all around her and there are purses and bags of coins everywhere. Scattered around the image, bird-headed people and other monsters are aggressively dealing with money.
In Elck, greed is one of the aspects of the search for the true.40 “Elck”, every human being, is looking for the truth and for himself, but there is a search in wrong places, in material things and possessions. A clear indication of this is the text added later: ‘Nemo non quarit passim sua commoda, nemo Non quaerit sese cunctis in rebus agendis, nemo non inhiat privatis undique lucris hic trhait, ille trahis, cunctis mor unus habendis est. ’41 Also in the drawing The Struggle for Money, a posthumous edition from 1570 but probably drawn in 1562-1563, is all about property (image 29) .42 Human piggy banks, money chests, tons of money and purses are engaged in a chaotic battle. Both the Latin text and the Middle Dutch verse point to greed as the cause of strife and quarrels: “Well aen ghy Spaerpotten, Tonnen en Kisten./Tis all about gelt en goet, this striden and quarrel.” 43 It is evident that in Bruegel’s imaginary world of greed, wrath and strife are inextricably intertwined.
4.3 Deadly Sins in Mad Griet
As the table shows, up to 1563, Bruegel repeatedly linked the theme of struggle with one or more vices. A brief inventory shows that other image fragments are also used several times (appendix 3, table 2). The ship of fools, the jester, the mouth of hell, monsters, beak people, fish, boats and fantasy buildings form links that connect the allegorical works. Mad Griet seems to be the apotheosis, in no work did Bruegel borrow so many elements from earlier works.
A comparison with De Toorn shows remarkable similarities. The main character, Ira, walks with great strides at the head of an army, shown in motion, the moment she steps forward. She is shown in profile, wears a helmet on her head and a breastplate. She has a sword in the gloved right hand and a torch in the left. A second sword hangs by her side. She has opened her mouth and is looking straight ahead (image 37). Dulle Griet seems like a sloppy version of Ira. The same active posture, walking slightly bent over and also with an open mouth. The sword in the right hand, helmet and chest cuirass, and a gloved left hand (Figure 38). However, unlike Ira, she does not lead an army, but runs away from it.
There are similar similarities between the drawing De Greed and Mad Griet. In the drawing Avaritia is digging into a money box. Mad Griet clamps an identical money box under her arm and in the cauldron she is carrying are valuables and a cup filled with gold pieces. The toad, symbol of greed and the devil, which in the drawing leaps from the feet of Avaritia, is depicted by Bruegel in Mad Griet in the tree next to the gate of hell (image 39) .44 Also around the large male figure in the center of the The painting, the curious giant in women’s clothes, has various actions to do with money and point to greed, such as the money-grabbing women on the bridge and the attempts to get the giant’s purse. The thematic relationship between the drawings of the deadly sins is thus expressed and confirmed by picture elements. It is
unlikely that these parables are accidental, and it is therefore obvious that the deadly sins of wrath and greed underlie the meaning of Mad Griet.
4.4 Psychomachia, Mad Brill and the Giant
Now that both struggle and the two deadly sins wrath and greed have been defined in Mad Griet, it is possible to examine how the painting relates to the text of the Psychomachia. The disorderly dressed virgin, Mad Griet, who leaves the battlefield laden with loot, can be associated with both anger and greed. The threatening environment exudes the atmosphere of the soul struggle described by Prudentius. The image is closely related to the following verses of the text:
“Greed folds its skirts into a great bag and gathers everything of value that has been left behind. With her mouth wide open, as if yawning, she searches the sand for bits of gold. When her pockets are full, she fills purses and moneybags with her treasures. “45
But not only Mad Griet can be associated with this text. The other striking figure, the giant on the bridge house, also seems to be derived from the Psychomachia. This curious figure scoops money out of his butt with a ladle and scatters it into the crowd of women. The women try to catch it in a bowl and climb a ladder to steal the giant’s purse. As a result, the united struggle against the devils is disrupted by the lust for money.
In the drawings of the deadly sins, hardly any clues can be found for the meaning of this figure. Margaret Sullivan interprets the giant as Folly, Folly, the companion of anger.46 However, a comparison with the portion of the text of the Psychomachia, in which Avaritia leaves the battlefield and the subsequent stanza after she is defeated, leads to a different interpretation. The text reads:
“When after some time the vices are defeated, the virtues sing the victory psalms. Suddenly they are hit by a storm. It is the storm caused by evil to disturb the peace. Concordia is hit in the side by a vice lurking. It’s Discordia, the Twist. While the army of the vices was being driven out, she disguised herself as a friend and joined in the festivities. But she carried a knife to injure Concordia. “47
This figure in the center of the painting, the curious jester or giant, is completely in line with this part of the text and can therefore be explained as the depiction of Discordia, the Twist. In Gregory’s scheme, this deadly sin has fallen in rank, but in Psychomachia it is the last remaining vice on the battlefield and the one who is still trying to stir up the battle. Discordia is disguised as a friend and Bruegel’s giant is also disguised, as he wears women’s clothing. He scoops money out of his butt and scatters it between the women, who let themselves be seduced by this and no longer concentrate on fighting evil. Thus, the main components of the Psychomachia are also present in Mad Griet, not only through the thematic connection of struggle and deadly sins, but also, and perhaps most importantly, through the remarkable details.
- The Landjuweel of 1561
However, this does not explain why Bruegel chose precisely this theme for a large painting, probably a free work, without a client and therefore a commercial venture. However, it is very likely that the immediate cause was a spectacular event, which took place in 1561, namely the Landjuweel of the Antwerp rhetoric chamber de Violieren. This competition between the chambers of rhetoric of the Brabant cities was last held in 1541 in Diets. The Violieren had then won the first prize and therefore had to organize the next tournament. The troubled political situation caused by the wars between Spain and France and the religious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics made it impossible to call the match for a long period. Only after the peace of 1559 was there sufficient peace and prosperity again for such large-scale festivities. The city council of Antwerp early 1561 via Granvelle, de
chief adviser to Philip II, to the Governor Margaret of Parma for permission. Ultimately, the request was granted subject to conditions. The guidelines set by the court had to be adhered to.48 These stipulated that only three of the twenty-four proposed themes for the sentence plays were allowed:
Again experience oft gheleertheyt more wisdom by brenght. It most commonly refers people to the arts. Why a ripe gierich mensche desires more rijckdoms. 49
Science, art and greed were apparently safe subjects. The restoration of the togetherness of the Brabant cities and the celebration of peace through the art of rhetoric were also important themes. However, it was forbidden to perform games and ballads about religion. Also mocking the government, the clergy and city officials, in short the beloved political satire, was not allowed.
The Landjuweel began on August 3, 1561 with a twelve-hour entry that lasted well into the night. 1328 rhetoricians on horseback, 23 floats and 196 regular wagons took part in this.50 It must have been an unforgettable spectacle that made a deep impression on all Antwerp residents. It lasted until Monday, August 27, and turned the city upside down for three weeks. Bruegel, as an important artist and because of his membership of the guild also belonging to the circles around the rhetoricians, will undoubtedly have experienced the festivities up close.
The importance of the topics of peace and togetherness became clear from the welcome speech:
“We are not discordia.
Although she had no animal
That her tower proudly avenged us, kite.
Meyndy vows that Concordia, hueren break souwe (Appendix 4). 51
The importance that people attached to peace and the relief at the end of the war was also expressed in the invitation card for the Landjuweel (fig. 40) .52 Rhetoric, the
rhetoric, with its qualities of Prudentia (wisdom) and Inventio (science), creates the conditions under which Pax (peace), Caritas (charity) and Ratio (reason) can thrive and the negative elements Ira, Invidia (envy) and Discordia (discord, strife) ) are dislodged. Discord must be avoided, because it disrupts both the political and social equilibrium and, at least as important in a trading city like Antwerp, has a disastrous impact on the economy and prosperity.
The longing for peace came to the fore in the performances of the various rhetoric chambers. For example, the theme of the Southern Leuven phrase game was “Unity makes power”. The main characters were the deadly sins Idleness and Twist. In tpunt, the introduction to the game, the importance of unity was again explicitly explained:
So Concordia elck minnelijck has the handle,
That’s unity that Rijcdom can increase. Remember this for seker and be a ghesist:
Unity can establish power that demands the quarrel. 53
One of the other three permissible themes, greed, was also featured in many performances. Der Vreuchdenbloeme, the rhetoric chamber of Bergen op Zoom, gave greedy ‘Idel Begheerte’, even a central role in the play (appendix 5) .54 Idel Begheerte is the personification of the greedy merchant, who appropriates everything at the expense of the poor, without concern for the righteousness of his deeds. Because he has no morals, he finds no peace in life. This greed leads to chaos in the world: “Idel Begheerte” bringht int ghekijf // who are in rest “.
It is quite conceivable that the emphatic presence of the themes of greed and strife in the plays inspired Bruegel to make a painting that dovetailed with these topical subjects, which were not only everyday reality, but once again through the Landjuweel. gained extra meaning and invited to a painterly imagination. In addition, it would be a current topic, elaborated with
borrowings from previously successfully published drawings can also be commercially interesting.
In summary, it can be said that there are sufficient arguments to believe that Mad Griet can be interpreted as the representation of the vices of greed, wrath and strife. It is also plausible that there is a direct connection, an evident text-image relationship, between Bruegel’s Mad Griet and Prudentius’ Psychomachia. It has been established that Prudentius’ works were not only known in Antwerp, but were even popular enough to be reissued in a deluxe edition. Within this release, the Psychomachia is so important that it is presented as the opening text.
It has also become clear that Bruegel was part of the literate class both during his apprenticeship and during his stay as a successful artist in Antwerp. The print Elck and his predilection for proverbs showed that he was aware of the ideas and literary influences of humanism. The interweaving of the painter’s guild with the rhetorician’s room also gave him access to the literary environment of Antwerp and the images in his drawings of rhetorician parades during fairs are proof of his familiarity with the rhetoric scene. In summary, the Psychomachia was present in Antwerp and accessible to Bruegel.
The mutual comparison of works by Bruegel has shown that the main factors of Psychomachia, strife and sins, also play a major role in Bruegel’s work. Struggle occurs in various works, sometimes as the main theme, sometimes as a detail or scene in the background. Mad Griet, however, takes place on the battlefield and battle is prominent throughout the painting. The fact that Mad Griet is the personification of Ira and Avaritia is clear from the similarities between Mad Griet and the drawings De Toorn and De Greed.
The figure of the giant in the center of the painting has never appeared in Bruegel’s work before and cannot be explained in this way. However, a comparison between the text of the Psychomachia and Mad Griet shows that the characters are dull
Griet and the Giant are so closely related to the text passages on Avaritia and Discordia that it can be assumed that Bruegel knew the story and used it as inspiration. This assumption is further confirmed by the subjects that dominated the Landjuweel of Antwerp in 1561, Concordia and Discordia, and the emphatic attention to greed as a source of war and chaos.
The conclusion is therefore that Bruegel, with Mad Griet, based on the Landjuweel of 1561, elaborated his vision on the themes of war, greed and strife on the basis of the text of the Psychomachia and through the connection between the classical text, the current rhetoric literature and Christian virtue doctrine has left a razor-sharp image of the time