Genre & Material
Where can I find this in Berlin?
The portrayed woman actually existed. The Gemeentearchief in Haarlem gave disclosure on her. She stayed in a working house in Haarlem, which was to that time also a mental hospital and jail. She stayed in the section for people suffering from leprosy and paid about 65 Gulden towards rent. Frans Hals’s son Pieter, who was also living in the work house, was considered mentally ill by the major and was sentenced to stay there for the rest of his life.
With hard, sketch-like strokes of the brush Frans Hals shapes his Malle Babbe, Crazy Babara. She’s sitting at the table with typical clothes of the 17. Century. Her head glances sideways as she laughs without any apparent reason, while holding an open pewter on the table. Either a cat or an owl is sitting on her left shoulder. The pewter on her right and the owl on the left of the picture create a diagonal, which has a certain symbolic character. Perhaps alcoholism and the attribute of a witch in the form of an owl is suggested, in any case the motif seems oppressive. One cannot tell in which room she is in nor if she is laughing or talking on her own or not. It seems as if she has, under the influence of alcohol and with company of the owl – an animal that symbolizes mystery and wisdom – enraptured the world.