Hell hath no fury: how to plunder the underworld

If you've caught our recent references to The Temptation of St. Anthony and the oeuvre of James Ensor, you'll know we've been on something of a Disturbing Old Paintings kick of late. But Ensor's dancing skeletons and Anthony's nightmare creatures have nothing on Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Dulle Griet (short for Dulle Griet, Who is Looking at the Mouth of Hell, AKA Mad Meg). Whence this nightmarish vision? Assuming Bruegel wasn't snacking on tainted rye while painting, he probably took a cue from a traditional Flemish folktale about a peasant woman who leads a female army to plunder Hell. In the painting she wears a soldier's breastplate over her dress, hair streaming from under a helmet, and runs across a landscape toward the mouth of Hell -- emerging grotesquely from the side of a hill -- with a sword in one hand and bundles of modest loot -- food, iron, pots and pans -- in the other.

The whole painting, and some fun context, after the jump:

For a full-screen view, click here.
Art critic Jonathan Jones:
"Armies pillaged Europe routinely in the 16th and 17th centuries; it was an acknowledged way for soldiers to be "paid". In this painting, the army is beaten at its own game by tough peasant women. Their leader Dulle Griet is an anti-hero, energetic and courageous, the tragicomic spirit of survival. Above her, the sky blazes red; hell and earth are merging. Behind Dulle Griet to the right, a mob of women are beating the damned, while soldiers seem timid in comparison. The women, knocking the mutants out of their way and defying the army, are looting houses and ransacking the ruined land."

A Very Brief History of Chamber Pots

Some of the oldest chamber pots found by archeologists have been discovered in ancient Greece, but portable toilets have come a long way since then. Whether referred to as "the Jordan" (possibly a reference to the river), "Oliver's Skull" (maybe a nod to Oliver Cromwell's perambulating cranium), or "the Looking Glass" (because doctors would examine urine for diagnosis), they were an essential fact of life in houses and on the road for centuries. In this video from the Wellcome Collection, Visitor Experience Assistant Rob Bidder discusses two 19th century chamber pots in the museum while offering a brief survey of the use of chamber pots in Britain (including why they were particularly useful in wartime).

A Tour of the New York Academy of Medicine's Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room at the New York Academy of Medicine documents the evolution of our medical knowledge. Its books and artifacts are as bizarre as they are fascinating. Read more here.


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