Jacob Jordaens - The Bean King

by Alexandra Tuschka


The warning slogan enthroned above the picture seems to interest no one here: "Nil similius insano quam ebrius" - "Nothing resembles a lunatic more than a drunk". On the contrary, here the glass is just raised. Because when the old man at the right edge of the picture calls out "The king is drinking!" this applies to everyone present.

What we see here is an old tradition that was celebrated on January 6 - Epiphany - in much of the 17th century Netherlands. For this purpose, a bean is baked into the king cake, which is cut here on the table. Whoever finds this in his piece becomes king. He may choose the most beautiful woman of the evening as queen. Apparently, however, the lottery applied in this case. Because the queen has pinned her lot unmistakably on her shoulder. She is depicted brightly lit next to the king and does not seem to find the spectacle entirely amusing. She leads the fork uncertainly to the plate, looks absent-minded and seems also by the light guidance a little enraptured. She is adorned with all kinds of pearl jewelry in addition to her crown. She looks much more authentic than the obese king with his crown of stiffened gold paper. Her rapture is reminiscent of Rembrandt's Delila.


The other "court offices" were also chosen by lot. Two of the lots already lie carelessly on the floor: the "Hofmester" and the "Senger". Others continue to distinguish themselves by pinning them to their clothing. The man with the fish is Vorschneider, the vomiting drunkard is "Mediziner". In this figure, Jordaens drives the lottery ad absurdum. In the middle of the picture we see in the side view a man raising his glass; behind him a fool-like old man who contorts his face to toast. Some women coquettishly try to make eye contact with the viewer.


The mirror suggests still other persons, from the angle perhaps beside the viewer. The window also tells us that it is still light. Such a feast could last from noon to midnight. This also explains the presence of the children. One is taking a sip from the glass in the foreground, which a dog greedily envies. Jordaens probably had family members and employees model here. In the king he portrayed his father-in-law Adam van Noort. In no way was this meant to be a defamation, but rather an affectionate recognition; for van Noort was also a painter and teacher of Jordaens. The Fleming devoted himself to this theme at least six times; it can also be found under the title "The King Drinks".


Jacob Jordaens - The Bean King

Oil on canvas, 1640, 242 × 300 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna