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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

Nicolaes Maes (Dordrecht 1634-Amsterdam 1693)

The listening Housewife Signed and dated 1655

RCIN 405535

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Maes painted scenes with moralising themes based on domestic life. Here, the principal figure gazes directly out of the picture, her gesture, indicating silence, implicates the viewer in the conspiratorial act of eavesdropping. The object of our attention is the group of three figures in the room beneath the staircase: a couple kissing and an older man carrying a lantern. The painting is a comment on the efficient running of a household. The broom, which is cast aside at the foot of the staircase, suggests that domestic chores have been abandoned in favour of other distractions. The woman’s playful smile indicates that she is not necessarily being censorious, but is in fact encouraging the viewer to enjoy the moral dilemma of the situation. The map on the wall, although intended to represent Holland, is a reference to worldliness, whilst the cat asleep on the chair below it is a symbol of wantonness.