Tag Archives: 17th-century Netherlandish paintings

#FineArtFriday: The Merry Family, by Jan Steen

Jan Steen was fond of painting peasants and ordinary people, and this picture is a good example of that.

What I love about this image is the chaos. The clutter of pans and dishes heedlessly fallen to the floor, the boisterous enjoyment of wine and song, and the obvious lack of parental restraint is wonderfully depicted. The numerous children are smoking and drinking to excess, vices that weren’t acceptable diversions for youngsters then any more than they are now. The baby is exceedingly chubby, which was uncommon and represents the vice of gluttony–in one hand it holds bread and in the other it waves a spoon.

I suspect the children grew up with a similar love of wine and song as their parents.

The note on the wall contains the moral of the story. According to the Rijksmuseum website, “The note hanging from the mantelpiece gives away the moral of the story: ‘As the old sing, so shall the young twitter.’ What will become of the children if their parents set the wrong example?”

The Age of the Puritan had swept across Europe and while it was waning in the mid-seventeenth century, puritanism had influenced life in Holland as much as elsewhere. This painting is a wonderful visual exhortation reminding the good people to live a sober life. Steen himself was not a puritan, as he was born into a family of brewers and ran taverns and breweries off and on throughout his life. But he did need to sell his paintings as he was never a successful businessman, and his allegorical paintings were quite popular.

Quote from Wikipedia: 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.


Credits and Attributions:

The Merry Family, Jan Steen, 1668 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Moral (English translation) quoted from Rijksmuseum website,  https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-C-229, accessed 17 May 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Jan Steen.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Jan. 2018. Web. 17 May. 2018.

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#FineArtFriday The Painter in his Studio by Adriaen Van Ostade

In “The Painter in his Studio” by Adriaen Van Ostade (1663), we see a self-portrait of the artist, sitting with his back to us. He is at his easel, and his brush hand rests on a ‘maulstick,’ a stick with a padded head used by painters to support the hand holding the paintbrush.  In the shadowed background, a pupil is at work, possibly preparing a palette, or maybe preparing colors.

The window, the floor with all its debris, the walls, and the ceiling are depicted with great detail. The artist and his pupil are less detailed.

The studio is untidy, with brushes fallen on the littered floor. The room is cluttered with numerous odd objects and tools of the trade, including the head of a broken bust beneath a table. On the ceiling above the artist, a canvas canopy is tacked up, possibly to protect the artist’s work area from leaks, or perhaps falling dust.

A skull of some sort hangs near the window, and antlers also decorate the ceiling. The painter’s mannequin poses near the stairs, and an indistinct trunk stands open in the background.

The room is in desperate need of a good sweeping. The large leaded-glass window, however, is clean and lets in good light. It shows us how the artist saw himself and his work space.

A Netherlandish contemporary of the Flemish painters David Teniers the Younger and Adriaen Brouwer, Van Ostade was inspired by the work of Rembrandt.

As Rembrandt did, Van Ostade painted people who had seen hard times. They were often old, sometimes ill-favored, and not always beautiful. He painted dark interior scenes, where shadows are often the dominant features. He also painted the interiors of taverns and the homes of ordinary people, so through his work we who write can see how people really lived.

Van Ostade lived and painted in Haarlem. His subjects and the mood of his work is darker than that of his Flemish contemporaries, as hard times had fallen on the people of Holland, and  Haarlem in particular.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Adriaen van Ostade – The Painter in His Studio – WGA16748.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Adriaen_van_Ostade_-_The_Painter_in_His_Studio_-_WGA16748.jpg&oldid=270705051 (accessed May 10, 2018).

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