top of page

Frans Hals - Malle Babbe

by Alexandra Tuschka

A woman with a white cap laughingly turns her head to the side. On her shoulder an owl has made itself beqeum. In her right hand the woman holds an open tankard.

The half figure painted with dynamic brush strokes clearly contrasts with the dark background. Presumably, she is no longer completely sober. Her cheeks have already taken on a rosy color and some parts of her skin are shining. Her mouth is open - obviously the lady is very amused. Is she talking to herself or do we have to imagine an invisible interlocutor?

Malle Babbe" - the name of the portrayed person means as much as "the crazy Babette". The woman was one of Fran's contemporaries, today quite well documented. The obviously mentally impaired woman lived in a workhouse in Haarlem, which functioned as a prison and an insane asylum at the same time. She also received 65 guilders from the leprosarium, which ensured her existence.

The owl on her shoulder may remind us today of depictions of witches; nevertheless, at the time of its creation around 1634, the Dutch expression "to be drunk like an owl" was well known. Therefore, the animal here symbolically refers to the depicted person's depravity.

Frans Hals portraits exude an impressive liveliness. His interest in persons of the lower class was unbroken from the beginning of his painting career. Malle Babbe was also captured in a natural movement - as is so often the case, Hals' painting seems like a "snapshot".

Frans Hals - Malle Babbe

Oil on canvas, 1633-35, 75 x 64 cm, Gemäldegalerie in Berlin


bottom of page