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Jan Steen (Leiden 1626-Leiden 1679)

A Village Revel Signed and dated 1673

Oil on canvas | 110.4 x 147.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 405611

Cumberland Withdrawing Room, Hampton Court Palace

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  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder was still revered in the Low Countries a century after his death in 1569. At this date in his native Flanders artists, like David Teniers, were still creating multi-narrative crowd scenes; in the Dutch Republic on the other hand genre painting tended to concentrate on a closer engagement with up to five or so figures. Works of this kind by Jan Steen are exceptional in the number of figures and in the conscious tribute they pay to Bruegel. They are surely trying to suggest that in some way they treat ‘all of human life’.

    In this scene the sun is setting on a village party; in the Spanish Netherlands this would be a Kermis celebrating a Saint’s day; in the North it is more likely to be the day set aside to celebrate the liberation from the Spanish in the Eighty Year’s War (1568-1648). Various stock characters appear, presumably impersonated by members of the Rederijkers (or ‘Chambers of Rhetoricians’, an exclusive Dutch version of an Amateur Dramatics Society): a Spanish soldier in the centre; a boat full of monks to the right and a woman riding a broom. The exact significance of these characters is obscure, but the first two types are presumably enemies who are no longer feared and can thus take their place as folk hate-figures, like Guy Fawkes on an English bonfire night. The rest of the characters have just experienced a long day of celebration during which drinking has degenerated into brawling. The cooper working on his barrel at the centre foreground acts as a chorus apparently laughing at the folly surrounding him. Like the equivalent figure in CW 192, 404813, this is almost certainly intended as an allusion to Diogenes, the cynical Greek philosopher who renounced worldly goods and lived in a barrel. The figure of Diogenes often appears explicitly in a modern-dress context in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, as in Cesar van Everdingen’s 1652 view of the main square in Haarlem with ‘Diogenes Seeking an Honest Man’ (Maurtishuis, The Hague).

    Signed lower right: 'JSteen' and inscribed on the Inn sign 'TBOTVERSTANT [dull-witted] 1673'; the placard reads 'DIT HUIS IS TE HUER' ('this house is to let').

    Acquired by George IV in 1811; recorded in store at Carlton House in 1816 (no 218); in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace in 1841 (no 59)

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    110.4 x 147.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

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