top of page

Jan Steen - The Doctor's Visit

by Alexandra Tuschka

This "doctor" obviously had one too many drinks before his rounds. His nose is already reddened, his gaze a little clouded. The people in the background on the left also bear witness to the preceding humid and merry company with which he might have been drinking just a moment ago. An old man - obviously even drunker - toasts the bystanders. Two old women laugh in the doorway, and the lady of the house hands the man an enema syringe. These were traditionally used for enemas, but in the context of this pictorial theme they also stand for the male phallus as well as ejaculation. With a clear gesture, the woman indicates to the man how to handle it. He gives her a smug smile in return.

The patient - a young, full-figured blonde - is already looking curious and lustful, wondering when she will finally be noticed. She has her right arm bent lasciviously upward, exposing her breast, and is reaching into her crotch with the other. The curtain and feather bed make a cozy, inviting impression. The little dog, actually a symbol of domestic fidelity, looks a little irritated. The slippers - also a symbol of domesticity - have become a bit disarranged here and "shaken" in the literal sense. And the chamber pot, like the instruments on the table to the left, refers to the sexual act. Especially piquant is a small detail: the buttons of the doctor's trousers are already open. So it is possible to quickly go into action to give the lady relief.

Of course, this genre scene by Steen is to be understood with a wink. The "doctor" here is rather to be interpreted as a quack, who is supposed to cure the woman's supposed illness with his manly strength. So both are playing a not very serious game. A "woman's disease" known in the 17th century Netherlands was characterized by apathy, hysteria and nervousness. However, it was known what these women lacked: they simply needed a little male affection. Many images of the time therefore take aim at the method of treatment. From Steen alone, numerous pictures of the "doctor's visit" are known, all of which show "sick" but lustful women who can be helped with a little philandering.

Jan Steen - The Doctor's Visit

Oil on wood, ca. 1625 or 1626, 45.7 x 38.1 cm, private collection


bottom of page