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Still life of fruit and a pie on a table

The Royal Collection has a stunning collection of seventeenth century Dutch art

Jan Steen (Leiden 1626-Leiden 1679)

A Village Revel Signed and dated 1673

RCIN 405611

Cumberland Withdrawing Room, Hampton Court Palace

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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: 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. 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.