March Of Folly In Art

madness

Print made by William Dickinson after Robert Edge Pine (1775)

Madness. A straw and a scarf in tangled hair, a rope holding a pelt around her, leaving the breast bare, clutching at the chains that restrain her, twisting to the left and staring wildly at something that only she can see and fear.

Hieronymus BOSCH, The Cure of Folly (Extraction of the Stone of Madness) 1475-80

Hieronymus BOSCH,
The Cure of Folly. Extraction of the Stone of Madness. (1475-80)

Madness. The Stone of Madness lodged in the head of a poor fellow. There is a cure, however. With the help of Out Lord and a simple implement, the attempt is made to pluck the Stone of Madness out of the head of a madman. A painting of the procedure was completed between 1475 and 1480 by the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

Cutting out the Stone of Madness, by Pieter Bruegel

Cutting out the Stone of Madness, by Pieter Bruegel

A curious belief held by some in the Middle Ages was that madness was caused by a “stone of madness” situated anywhere in the body, but most commonly in the head. It was believed that the stone could be removed by surgery; many quack healers roamed Europe performing sham operations on the mentally ill,  removing the stone”, and affecting a cure, which, more often that not, was very short-lived.

Excising the Stone of Folly by Pieter Huys

Excising the Stone of Folly by Pieter Huys

BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) c. 1562

BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) c. 1562

Amidst a fantastically bizarre setting, Mad Meg is both pitiful and pitiless, driven by a colossal mess that darkened her mind and her senses.

Attributed to Renold Elstrack (1607)

Attributed to Renold Elstrack (1607)

While maskinge in their folleis all doe passe, though all say nay yet all doe ride the asse.

Madness of life, the world and people. Satire on the folly of the world: a group of men and a courtesan vie to ride the ass of folly which is led by a beggar who fails to persuade a judge to take part; a fool holds the ass by the tail.

Print made by Michel Honoré Bounieu (1785)

Print made by Michel Honoré Bounieu (1785)

Madness inspires fear. Fear is an overpowering force, thus people are paying their homage to Madness. A woman, carrying a fool’s bauble and leading blindfolded Cupid by the hand is Madness personified, while people on the background bow in awe.

The Tree of Folly growing in the centre, between four rows with scenes that exemplify folly, each with its explanatory text Etching Attributed to Ambrogio Brambilla  (1575-1590)

The Tree of Folly growing in the centre, between four rows with scenes that exemplify folly, each with its explanatory text. Etching. Attributed to Ambrogio Brambilla (1575-1590)

Francisco Goya  Yard with Lunatics (1794)

Francisco Goya
Yard with Lunatics (1794)

Goya wrote that the Yard with lunatics shows a scene in the asylum in Zaragoza, “a yard with lunatics, and two of them fighting completely naked while their warder beats them, and others in sacks.” It has been described as a “somber vision of human bodies without human reason” and as one of Goya’s “deeply disturbing visions of sadism and suffering.”

With this painting, the direction of Goya’s art and career drastically changes, moving from “a world in which there are no shadows to one in which there is no light”.

The painting had been absent from public view since a private sale in 1922.madness1

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