#FineArtFriday: Rhetoricians at a Window by Jan Steen ca. 1666

Artist: Jan Steen  (1625/1626–1679)

Title: Rhetoricians at a Window

Genre: genre art

Date: c. 1661-66

Medium: oil on canvas

English: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 759.46 mm (29.90 in); Width: 586.23 mm (23.07 in)

Collection: Philadelphia Museum of Art

What I love about this painting:

The reading of a poem or play was clearly the opportunity for the performers to have a good time. From the drinker in the shadows of the background to the grapevines growing around the window, Steen tells us that wine and rhetoric are clearly entwined.

I love the inclusion of both “the critic” who leans his head on his hand and listens analytically, and the man behind him, who is clearly “a little over the limit,” and supports himself by grasping the window frame and heartily agreeing with some point.

The reader is clearly enjoying himself, as are the others.

About the Artist (Via Wikipedia):

Jan Havickszoon Steen (c. 1626 – buried 3 February 1679) was a Dutch Golden Age painter, one of the leading genre painters of the 17th century. His works are known for their psychological insight, sense of humour and abundance of colour.

Daily life was Jan Steen’s main pictorial theme. Many of the genre scenes he portrayed, as in The Feast of Saint Nicholas, are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, even so much that “a Jan Steen household”, meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb (een huishouden van Jan Steen). Subtle hints in his paintings seem to suggest that Steen meant to warn the viewer rather than invite him to copy this behaviour. Many of Steen’s paintings bear references to old Dutch proverbs or literature. He often used members of his family as models, and painted quite a few self-portraits in which he showed no tendency of vanity.

Steen did not shy from other themes: he painted historical, mythological and religious scenes, portraits, still lifes and natural scenes. His portraits of children are famous. He is also well known for his mastery of light and attention to detail, most notably in Persian rugs and other textiles.

Steen was prolific, producing about 800 paintings, of which roughly 350 survive. His work was valued much by contemporaries and as a result he was reasonably well paid for his work. He did not have many students—only Richard Brakenburgh is recorded—but his work proved a source of inspiration for many painters. [2]

About this painting, Via Wikipedia:

Chambers of rhetoric (Dutch: rederijkerskamers) were dramatic societies in the Low Countries. Their members were called Rederijkers (singular Rederijker), from the French word ‘rhétoricien’, and during the 15th and 16th centuries were mainly interested in dramas and lyrics. These societies were closely connected with local civic leaders and their public plays were a form of early public relations for the city. [1]

In 1945, Sturla Gudlaugsson, a specialist in Dutch seventeenth-century painting and iconography and Director of the Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Mauritshuis in The Hague, wrote The Comedians in the work of Jan Steen and his Contemporaries, which revealed that a major influence on Jan Steen’s work was the guild of the Rhetoricians or Rederijkers and their theatrical endeavors.

It is often suggested that Jan Steen’s paintings are a realistic portrayal of Dutch 17th-century life. However, not everything he did was a purely realistic representation of his day-to-day environment. Many of his scenes contain idyllic and bucolic fantasies and a declamatory emphasis redolent of theater.

Jan Steen’s connection to theater is easily verifiable through his connection to the Rederijkers. There are two kinds of evidence for this connection. First, Jan Steen Steen’s uncle belonged to the Rhetoricians in Leiden, where Steen was born and lived a substantial part of his life. Second, Jan Steen portrayed many scenes from the lives of the Rederijkers, an example being the painting Rhetoricians at a Window of 1658–65. The piece is currently held in the Philadelphia Museum of Art which was established in February 1876. The humanity, humor and optimism of the figures suggest that Jan Steen knew these men well and wanted to portray them positively.

With his lavish and moralising style, it is logical that Steen would employ the stratagems from theater for his purposes. There is conclusive evidence that the characters in Steen’s paintings are predominantly theatrical characters and not ones from reality. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Steen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jan_Steen&oldid=950709901 (accessed September 10, 2020).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Chamber of rhetoric,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chamber_of_rhetoric&oldid=975283829 (accessed September 10, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Steen, Dutch (active Leiden, Haarlem, and The Hague) – Rhetoricians at a Window – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Steen,_Dutch_(active_Leiden,_Haarlem,_and_The_Hague)_-_Rhetoricians_at_a_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=355150081 (accessed September 10, 2020).

2 Comments

Filed under #FineArtFriday

2 responses to “#FineArtFriday: Rhetoricians at a Window by Jan Steen ca. 1666

  1. Johanna Flynn

    Hadn’t heard of Steen before. Love it!! One of the best you’ve posted.

    Liked by 1 person

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