Arts & Culture

The Merry Family

Jan Havicksz Steen1668

Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum

The household depicted here is a cheerful madhouse. Old and young are enjoying themselves to the hilt: the mother and grand - mother have broken into song, the children are making music or smoking, while the father raises his glass. The younger children follow his example. The note on the
mantel-piece says it all: 'So father, so son.' Steen's composition illustrated this old saying, making it clear that bad examples are quickly followed. Jan Steen is perhaps best known for his scenes taken from everyday life: families gathered around the table, people drinking in a tavern. At first glance they are amusing, but there is often a subtle reference or hidden message tucked away somewhere in a text. Steen was a good storyteller with a gift for staging, and he knew how to capture the mood of a piece.

Bequest of A. van der Hoop (Amsterdam), 1854. On loan from the City of Amsterdam, 1885.

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