Advice from Jan

Jan Steen, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten, c. 1659-1660.

From the Nelson-Atkins Museum collection, Jan Steen, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten, c. 1659-1660.

In keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post here is another great work from The Neslson-Atkins Museum of Art: Jan Steen’s, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten. Like many paintings from this region in the 17th century, I am immediately attracted by its symbol saturation. This painting is trying to tell you something. I particularly relish how overt some messages continue to be and how other allusions have become obscured by the passage of time.

Resting on the mantlepiece is the unlikely bust of Death with the inscription, Discite Mori (learn to die). But before the viewer is overcome with existential angst they should remember the words written upon the harpsichord: musica pellet curas (music drives away care). These words give us a strong foothold to interpret and thereby enjoy the work even though images such as half peeled citrus fruit (the transience of luxury) have lost most of their moral force in the 21st century.

(Thanks to John Walford’s Art History photostream for the images.)

Jan Steen, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten (detail), c. 1659-1660.

From the Nelson-Atkins Museum collection, Jan Steen, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten (detail), c. 1659-1660.

Jan Steen, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten (detail), c. 1659-1660.

From the Nelson-Atkins Museum collection, Jan Steen, Fantasy Interior with Jan Steen and the Family of Gerrit Schouten (detail), c. 1659-1660.

2 responses to “Advice from Jan

  1. This painting also touches on the subject of new found wealth via trade and commerce during the Dutch Golden Age. Gerrit Schouten, a brewer, is the fellow sitting in the chair, with Jan Steen standing beside him. The women in the room with them are the Schouten daughters, and the woman preparing oysters in the back room – who at first one might assume is a maid – is actually Mrs. Schouten. The elder Schoutens are dressed rather plainly and somberly, still connected to their humbler roots, as evidenced by the wife’s willingness to take on domestic duties. The daughters, who are not helping, are dressed elegantly, and obviously enjoy the wealth and status that their father has obtained for them. The theme is timeless, hard working parents giving a better life to their children, with the latter acting rather entitled!

  2. Oh – the bust of death on the mantlepiece really isn’t “rather unlikely” or out of place in this room. Skulls and symbols of vanity are common devices in 17th century Dutch painting, and were found in homes too. They’re alled “memento mori”: remember that you must die.

What say you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s