Jan Steen - As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young

by Alexandra Tuschka


Well, what is being celebrated here? The painter gives us a few clues: the child in the center of the picture is very young, has a pretty bonnet on and lies in the arms of the mother. And if it were not for the glass in the hand of the woman in the left edge of the picture, it would seem even clearer to us that a baptismal celebration is meant here. The contemporary viewer also recognized the hood that the grandfather has put on as the one worn by a young father between the birth of the child and its baptism. 3 generations have gathered to celebrate this day.

The title of the picture is due to the line of text that the grandmother deciphers. The picture also shows in the right edge of the picture that the bad influence of the adult (incidentally a self-portrait of Steen) is transferred to the children. He encourages the boy to smoke tobacco. The parrot, a symbolic animal for unthinking imitation, also represents this effect. The birds in the cage, in turn, could stand for the word "humping," which was a synonym for sexual intercourse in the Netherlands of the time, as it is today. The teapot at the feet of the woman on the left (a portrait of Jan's wife, by the way) also plays flirtatiously with this association. Because if we imagine where the warm smoke blows... The oysters as an aphrodisiac are ready.


Typically Dutch, the picture is populated with numerous still life elements. A peeled fruit lies in the center of the picture; vessels of various materials are present in the picture. On the one hand, these naturally stand for the viciousness of the family shown, on the other hand, Jan Steen proves his painterly skills with them.


Jan Steen - As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young

Oil on canvas, 1665, 134 x 163 cm, Mauritshuis in The Hague